PAYS keeps Detroiters struggling with back taxes in their homes

May 11th, 2020
Kenyetta Sanders (photographed at the bank teller training graduation in April 2019)

Kenyetta Sanders received a letter from the Wayne County Treasurer’s office last week. She read it several times to make sure of the good news. Then she cried tears of relief and joy.

The letter informed Kenyetta that she has been approved for the Pay As You Stay (PAYS) program. PAYS helps Michigan homeowners who have fallen behind on their property taxes stay in their homes. It provides affordable payment plans and eliminates penalties, interest and fees for eligible homeowners. Under PAYS, homeowners pay only their back taxes or 10 percent of the home’s taxable value, whichever is less.

Kenyetta had owed just over $14,000 in back taxes for her home in northeast Detroit. With PAYS, she will now owe less than $1,000. She can elect to pay monthly installments for 36 months, or make a lump sum payment of only $873 to resolve her debt.

“I’d been afraid of losing my home and now the stress is gone,” Kenyetta, 35, said. “I feel like I have a clean slate to go forward, and I’m going to make sure that I don’t fall behind again.”

To be eligible for PAYS, the homeowner must qualify for the Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP) for the current year. The HPTAP helps low-income households or those experiencing financial hardships by eliminating or reducing their property tax bill for the current year. The 2020 HPTAP application deadline has been extended to December 14.

Southwest Solutions provides workshops and assistance to help Detroit homeowners apply for the HPTAP. Kathy Ralston, Home Preservation Coach at Southwest Solutions, coordinates this effort. Kathy estimates that about 100 Detroit homeowners whom her team has helped qualify for HPTAP will now be able to take advantage of PAYS, including Kenyetta.

“Kathy’s expertise, patience and persistence really helped me through the process,” Kenyetta said.

Mayor Mike Duggan and Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree recently announced that more than 4,000 letters have been mailed to Detroit homeowners eligible for PAYS. Low-income Detroit homeowners can also get financial help with their property taxes through the Wayne Metro CARES program. Kenyetta applied for assistance through this program, too, and she is hopeful that it will cover the lump sum PAYS amount she owes.

Kenyetta bought the home in 2012 for $6,000 from a speculator. She used her savings from working two jobs to pay in cash. The home needed a lot of work, but Kenyetta thought it was a good investment.

“I was tired of paying rent to a landlord and I wanted a place of our own for me and my son,” Kenyetta said.

The former owner said that the property taxes were paid up, but Kenyetta found out after the purchase that there was $5,000 in delinquent taxes. Kenyetta fell further behind in the taxes and penalties when she suffered a medical emergency. She was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment for two years, which reduced her ability to work during that time.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, Kenyetta was working both at a restaurant, where she has been for 15 years, and at a dollar store.

“I’m on leave from both jobs and won’t able to return until it’s safe,” Kenyetta said. “Because I am a cancer survivor and have respiratory issues, I have to be especially careful.”

Eventually, Kenyetta hopes to work in a bank. She graduated from Southwest Solutions’ bank teller training course last year, and she was applying for teller jobs before the COVID crisis hit. During the training, Kenyetta had access to a financial coaching at Southwest Solutions. The coaches helped her clear up driver responsibility fees for traffic tickets she had incurred when she was a teenager. She was able to pay $500 to eliminate over $4,000 in fines.

“I’ve been taking the bus everywhere for a long time, but now I’ll be able to afford a car to get around, since I don’t have to worry about the property tax debt anymore,” Kenyetta said. “I’m excited about the future, and I’m ready to roll with skates on!”

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