Eric R. Sabree is Wayne County Treasurer
Since my election as Wayne County Treasurer nearly a year ago we have taken aggressive steps to prevent foreclosures in Wayne County. Contrary to some recent media reports, there's simply no incentive to foreclose on homeowners anywhere in Wayne County. The assertion we are counting on foreclosures to balance the county budget is absurd.
We are doing everything we can to reduce foreclosures, help people get into payment plans and obtain the financial aid and advice they need to be productive homeowners in our greater community.
Without question, the foreclosure issue is a major one in Wayne County and may be unprecedented anywhere in the nation. Wayne County and its largest city, Detroit, was severely impacted by the Great Recession and subsequent municipal bankruptcy, following decades of population decline due to evaporating jobs. No other region has been so affected by similar economic shock waves. I cite these issues to provide context to the challenging dilemma of the ongoing foreclosure problem.
From my perspective, we have a firm grasp on the challenge and can demonstrate great progress in foreclosure reductions. We are optimistic that the worst is behind us. In 2015, some 28,000 properties were auctioned due to foreclosures. In 2016, we were able to reduce that number to 13,900.
We are working to reduce the number of properties in the auction in the fall of 2017. The office of the Wayne County Treasurer has fewer than 10,000 properties scheduled to be auctioned. To make these reductions, we have:
Conducted an unprecedented outreach campaign using paid and earned media to educate people on options to prevent foreclosures.
Supported new legislation for the Interest Rate Reduction program, allowing homeowners to reduce their interest rates on delinquent taxes from 18 percent to 6 percent.
Enrolled thousands of homeowners in monthly payment plans.
Joined a kiosk network to allow people to make payments in their neighborhoods in a safe, convenient manner with no convenience fees. (This has increased collections, reduced overhead and stabilized payment programs.)
Engaged homeowners in Taxpayer Saturdays and Talk with the Treasurer sessions throughout Wayne County to educate residents on all of the options and resources available to help them stay in their homes.
Cooperated with the state of Michigan and federal government in the Step Forward program to bring additional resources to help.
Commissioned a door knocking campaign for over 6,200 properties in Detroit, securing and boarding up unoccupied structures that are open to trespass and pose a safety hazard.
One of the root causes of property tax foreclosure is poverty, which is compounded by a lack of education, job training and employment opportunities. Our office will continue to fulfill our statutory duties and collect taxes and enforce the law while doing everything possible to help people stay in their homes.