Guest blog: Racial Discrimination and Detroit's Tax Foreclosure Crisis

By Guest Blogger, Professor Bernadette Atuahene

This week the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures released a short animated video explaining the basis of the heart-breaking, government-created crisis that is causing tens of thousands of Detroiters to lose their homes.

Between 2011 and 2015, one in four Detroit properties were subject to property tax foreclosure.  We have not witnessed this number of property tax foreclosures in American history since the Great Depression. 

To stop the foreclosures, the ACLU of Michigan, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Covington & Burling LLP filed a lawsuit last year against the City of Detroit and Wayne County. 

Read about the ACLU's Lawsuit to end racially discriminatory tax foreclosures in Detroit.

Local government has caused this crisis. One of our most daunting research findings reveals that between 2009 and 2015, the Detroit Assessment Division assessed between 55 percent and 85 percent of homes at rates that violated the Michigan Constitution, which states that a property cannot be assessed at more than 50 percent of its market value.  

More than 100,000 Detroit families have lost their homes due to these illegal tax foreclosure. African-Americans have been most deeply impacted.

Learn more about some of the impacted residents.

Equally as disturbing, thousands of poverty-stricken Detroiters are losing their homes for inability to pay taxes when they qualified for a poverty exemption that would have excused them from paying properly taxes in the first place. However, the City of Detroit made the process of obtaining a poverty exemption so convoluted that most qualified homeowners could not benefit from the program.

We need to spread the word about the tax foreclosure crises if we are going to stop it,  so please share this video far and wide and make it go viral.   

If you too want to be part of the resistance, the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures has a website with specific actions you can take:  www.illegalforeclosures.org

The Coalition's first event is a People's Forum, which will be held on Saturday, June 17th 1-3:00 p.m. at the Wayne State Law School (free parking is available).  The People’s Forum aims to educate the community about unconstitutional assessments in Detroit and create a restorative justice strategy to address the thousands of people who were foreclosed upon due to unconstitutional assessments.  

Bernadette Atuahene is a Visiting Professor of Law, Wayne State Law School; Professor of Law, IIT, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Research Professor, American Bar Foundation. Bernadetteatuahene.com