In the last 15 years, one in three Detroit properties have been foreclosed on. When most people think of foreclosure, they think of people who can’t afford to pay off their mortgages.
But in Detroit, it’s often the result of people struggling to pay their property taxes. One big reason is that, in the years after the Great Recession, the city went bankrupt and failed to lower property assessments far enough to account for the impact of the housing crisis. While the value of residents’ homes fell, their taxes remained inordinately high, and tens of thousands of people fell so far behind on their inflated tax bills that the county seized their homes and sold them off at annual auctions.
In recent years, the city and county have lowered assessments and offered reduced interest rates to some homeowners. But they have no plans to stop punishing those who were overcharged in the past.
VICE News followed this year’s tax foreclosure auction and investigated how the county financially benefits from the process. As Detroit touts its comeback and celebrates its success in climbing out of the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history, many of the city’s residents remain on the brink of displacement.
This segment originally aired December 7, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.