Detroiters eligible for property tax exemption should apply early

February 4th, 2019

For Detroit homeowners who are struggling to pay their property taxes because of financial hardship, it’s not too early to start the application to qualify for a property tax exemption (PTE) for the current year.

Indeed, even though the summer tax bill isn’t sent out until July, we strongly encourage homeowners to begin the PTE process now. Southwest Solutions helps homeowners seeking the PTE. We make sure that all the proper paperwork is assembled and then file the application with the City on the homeowner’s behalf.

Our monthly PTE workshop takes place on the first Friday of the month. The workshop is free.

John Metcalf at the PTE Workshop.

John Metcalf came to our first PTE workshop of the year, which was on February 1. John lives in a house in the Virginia Park neighborhood and is in the process of acquiring the home through the City of Detroit’s Occupied Buy-Back program. The program is available to those living in houses that the Detroit Land Bank came to possess due to tax foreclosure. Southwest Solutions is one of the nonprofits partnering with Land Bank to implement the program. John attended workshops at Southwest Solutions to help qualify for the Buy-Back program.

John had been renting the Virginia Park house for five years. The landlord had told him that a portion of his rent was going toward the property taxes, but then failed to pay the taxes. John didn’t realize that the landlord had been derelict in making the payments until he received an eviction notice two years ago. After the Lank Bank took possession of the house, it offered John the opportunity to purchase it for $1,000 through the Buy-Back program.

Now that John is acquiring the home, he is starting the paperwork to qualify for the PTE. John is 57. He works full-time as a machinist, but his wage of $10.50 an hour still puts him in the working poor category. At the PTE workshop, John met with Kathy Ralston, Home Preservation Coach at Southwest Solutions. Kathy had also helped John to qualify for the Buy-Back program.

“Kathy has been very informative and patient,” John said. “It feels good to become a homeowner. There’s peace of mind knowing that I have a place to call my own. A lot of the houses on my block have been abandoned and then torn down. Once I can get the property tax exemption, I know I can keep my house up.”

Maintaining neighborhoods in Detroit requires measures to ameliorate the high tax foreclosure rate in the city. Research shows that 80% of the houses in the city that go into tax foreclosure eventually become blighted. A study by the University of Michigan and the Detroit Urban Research Center shows that 40,000 Detroit homeowners are eligible for the PTE every year, but only 5,500 apply. Of those who do apply, 95% obtain a full or partial exemption.

So property tax relief is available, and it is incumbent upon eligible Detroit homeowners to take advantage of it.

Leticia, her mom and her mother-in-law work with Southwest Solutions’ Alex Makohn at the PTE Workshop.

Leticia, her mom, and her mother-in-law all came to our February PTE workshop to apply for the exemption for their respective homes. They heard about the workshop through Patricia Compos, a mental health counselor at Southwest Solutions. Leticia’s mom and mother-in-law are both low-income seniors. Leticia’s husband lost his job last year as a fire technician.

“Our family has been struggling financially with my husband out of work for quite a while,” Leticia said. “We need the property tax exemption to help us stay in our home and make ends meet.”

At the PTE workshop, Leticia, her mom, and her mother-in-law provided documents needed for the PTE application to Southwest Solutions’ Kathy Ralston and Alex Makohn. Kathy and Alex determined that a few documents are missing, and Leticia said that she would drop those off to Kathy and Alex at their office at a later time.

Our next PTE Workshop is on Friday, March 1. To learn more about the free workshop and how to attend, click here or email Alex.

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