Activists urge AG Nessel to weigh in on legal remedies for overtaxed Detroiters

The illegal property tax assessments resulted in an as many as 100,000 Detroiters, most of them Black, losing their homes to foreclosure between 2010 and 2016

click to enlarge Spirit of Detroit at city hall. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Spirit of Detroit at city hall.

Activists are calling on Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to weigh in on the legality of providing cash compensation to tens of thousands of Detroiters who were illegally overtaxed by overinflated property assessments.

The property tax assessments resulted in an as many as 100,000 Detroiters, most of them Black, losing their homes to foreclosure between 2010 and 2016.

Mayor Mike Duggan has admitted that many homeowners received excessive tax bills because their property was assessed at more than 50% of their market value, the limit set by the Michigan Constitution.

But Duggan’s corporation counsel insists that state law prohibits the city from compensating residents with cash or property tax credits.

Some legal experts disagree, and the Coalition for Property Tax Justice, a group of advocates for impacted homeowners, are requesting that Nessel issue an opinion on the issue.

“As a law professor and a lawyer, I can tell you that the legal logic of corporation counsel is, to be kind, faulty and deeply flawed,” Bernadette Atuahene, a property law scholar and professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, said at a news conference Thursday.

“We’re calling on Dana Nessel to tell us the truth. Who’s right?” Atuahene said. “If the current administration wants to remove property tax credits and cash compensation from the menu of options, then that’s a political position that they have to make outright, and they can’t hide behind a faulty interpretation of the law.”

In a survey of more than 200 overtaxed residents, most said they preferred cash compensation and property tax credits.

Saying those methods aren’t legal, Duggan’s administration is recommending other remedies such as home repair grants, houses or side lots from the Detroit Land Bank, Section 8 vouches, small business assistance, and employment opportunities.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield, and Bonsitu Kitaba of the ACLU of Michigan joined the new conference to call on Nessel to help settle the legal disagreements.

Hours before the news conference, Nessel reached out to the coalition and said she would meet with impacted residents and activists. It’s not yet clear whether she plans to issue a legal opinion.

“The attorney general has heard us,” Atuahene said. “This is an unequivocal win. When we fight together, we win together.”

Sheffield said Nessel’s involvement “is an important step."

“We want those affected by the unconstitutional assessments to be made whole,” Sheffield said. “The community demands are clear. They want cash compensation and property tax credits.”

Residents were overtaxed by at least $600 million.

Tlaib said a swift remedy is critical for residents, some of whom lost their homes in property tax foreclosures.

“Our people have been waiting longer than they should to get this kind of compensation and justice,” Tlaib said.

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About The Author

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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