Fighting foreclosures

The news about home foreclosures in southeast Michigan seems to grow worse by the day. Just last week the Freep reported that, during the first three months of 2007, the metro Detroit area endured one foreclosure filing for every 51 households. That's the highest foreclosure rate among the nation's 100 largest metro areas.

Which makes the press conference state Sen. Hansen Clarke held last week so important.

Clarke — along with legal aide types, housing activists and people at risk of losing their homes — wanted to get across just how dire the situation is.

See, it's not just people who've failed to make mortgage payments who are having their houses snatched from them. Some people, like 88-year-old Detroit resident Charles Hines, are facing homelessness because they fell behind on property taxes.

For the 2004 tax year his bill was $708. When he failed to pay it, $560 in interest and fees was tacked on. You can see how quickly something like this might spiral out of control for someone on a fixed income. So, the west side house Hines paid $10,000 for in 1953 — the house that took him 25 years to pay off and own outright — may be seized.

To quote famed economist John Mellencamp, "Ain't that America?"

Clarke's answer is: It doesn't have to be. First off, the Detroit Democrat wants people suffering rough economic times to be aware of an apparently little-known state law that allows struggling homeowners to apply for what's called a "hardship extension" that gives them a grace period of a full year to pay back the delinquent tax.

Clarke is also working with the good folks at two nonprofits dedicated to helping people living on the margins — Michigan Legal Services and the United Community Housing Coalition. With their help, Clarke is crafting legislation that will provide additional help. One possibility is reducing the 18 percent interest penalty tacked onto tardy taxes. Another would be to provide automatic one-year extensions to low-income seniors like Hines.

It's also likely that Clarke's legislation will attempt to stop municipalities from linking delinquent water bills with tax payments. That's currently going on in Highland Park, and people are already losing homes as a result. Ted Phillips, executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition, says there's been some talk that Detroit might consider doing the same thing. Were that to happen, he says, the jump in new foreclosures in the city would be "staggering."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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