DETROIT (AP) — Hundreds of Detroit homeowners in danger of losing their properties flocked Thursday to hearings that offered a last-ditch chance to avoid foreclosure and to keep the houses from adding to the city's already huge glut of vacant dwellings.
The homeowners nearly filled a long conference room in Detroit's Cobo Center while waiting for their cases to be heard. Many hoped to work out payment plans to ease their tax debts under new laws signed this month by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
"Everybody does have a story. Most of them are probably true, because you couldn't make them up if you try," said Eric Sabree, Wayne County's deputy treasurer of land management. Officials expect more than 14,000 property owners to seek help over seven days of hearings that run through Feb. 6.
"We have to collect taxes by law ... but we definitely do not want to take the property," Sabree said. "We want to show options that people have to save their properties."
More than 60,000 of the county's 76,000 foreclosed properties are in Detroit, threatening neighborhoods that have yet to recover from the national mortgage crisis.
About $326 million in taxes, interest and fees are owed on the foreclosed homes, lots and other buildings in Detroit. Mapping data shows that about 37,000 of those properties are occupied.
"One of the reasons why we want people to stay in their homes is because when they become abandoned, they get stripped. They become a crime scene. They become a drug house," Sabree said. "It's better to let the person stay in the house and collect taxes even if it takes longer to collect the money."
Mourice Neal was looking for just a little help. His tax bill is $4,900 on a home he bought in 2013 on Detroit's North End. Paying that amount would dangerously stretch what he receives in Social Security payments.
"It's a good process. They are looking at my income," said Neal, who is 46.
But Thomas Jackson left his hearing without knowing if anything could be done with the $27,000 tax bill on his home in northwest Detroit. He said he was told special consideration was needed to get a payment plan. He has another hearing next month.
"They told me they can't help me here," said Jackson, 40, who has not paid taxes on his home since 2012, when he lost his automotive job.
He has since found a new job and wants to keep the house he bought in 2009, but said losing it would not be the end of the world.
"I'm working now. I can find somewhere else," he said.
Regina Lee, 50, went to the hearing ready to pay the $1,200 owed on two lots that sandwich the home she grew up in. She said she was unaware her now-deceased grandmother listed her as owner of the lots until a relative received a foreclosure notice from the county.
"That's my grandmother's legacy," Lee said. "I guess she put my name on them for a reason. I'm hoping that I can pay to keep them or do a down payment."