Did you receive a yellow bag on your doorknob? That means your property is at risk of foreclosure. There’s still time to get help.
“The yellow bag is just one of many direct communications our offices use to notify our taxpayers that they are (in) jeopardy of foreclosure,” said Mario Morrow, spokesman for the office via email. “The yellow bag includes a notice of the upcoming show cause hearings as well as information on the multiple ways of getting assistance from our office. We encourage people to contact us to seek assistance immediately.”
There’s still time to get help. A city program to keep Detroiters in their homes is nearing a deadline for applications.
The last day to apply for Detroit’s Homeowners Property Tax Assistance Program (HPTAP), a property tax exemption for low-income homeowners, is Dec. 14. Residents can apply online, over the phone or even at the TCF Center starting on Dec. 7.
The city is encouraging residents to apply to the program as soon as possible. The Wayne County Treasurer’s Office in March halted foreclosures through the end of the year.
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Residents who qualify for HPTAP might also be eligible for the Wayne County Treasurer’s Pay As You Stay program (PAYS), which reduces back tax debt.
Applications for HPTAP are being reviewed and approved on an ongoing basis by the city’s Board of Review, which meets in March, July and December.
Here’s a rundown of both programs and how to apply:
What are the programs?
The HPTAP is a Poverty Tax Exemption (PTE) or Hardship Program. It exempts qualifying homeowners from their property taxes for the current year, based on household income or circumstances. The tax exemptions are granted at three levels: full, partial or a quarter. If approved, residents are still responsible for fees such as solid waste. For those approved for the program, that solid waste fee is $120.
Homeowners approved for HPTAP can also reduce their back tax debt through PAYS. Under this program — signed into law in March — fees and interest associated with back tax debt for qualifying homeowners is wiped out. The amount of taxes owed is capped at 10% of the home’s taxable value. Homeowners would have up to three years to pay off remaining debt, interest free.
How to qualify
Eligibility for the HPTAP is based on whether a resident owns and occupies their home as their primary residence and their household income or circumstances, like medical debt. For example, the maximum income for full exemption for a family of four is $26,780, while the maximum for a quarter exemption is $31,930.
Most homeowners whose income is below these income guidelines are generally approved, according to the city’s website about the program. Those whose income is above the city’s guidelines may still qualify for an exemption. But they should give additional information about their household circumstances.
Those who qualify for HPTAP with back tax debt may be eligible for PAYS, too.
How to apply
For the HPTAP, applicants must submit required documents to a Detroit’s Citizens Board of Review, according to a city website. These materials include:
- A completed HPTAP application. An online application can be found at www.detroitmi.gov/hptap. A printed application can also be found on the same website. Residents can pick up a form at the Assessor’s Office at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (2 Woodward Ave., Suite 804) or have a form mailed to their home by calling 313-224-3035 or by emailing [email protected]. Residents can also call pound 2-5-0 and say the key words “h-p-tap” to begin their application.
- Registered proof of ownership. This includes a deed, land contract, probate court order or divorce judgment.
- Any form of government ID with an address and picture of the homeowner and all residents over 18 years old.
- Proof of income for all members of the household — this includes any minor children. Some examples include: W2s, paystubs, child support and self-employment.
- If an applicant’s income is higher than the guidelines, they can list appropriate debts and expenses with supporting documentation. They should explain their “special circumstances” and why their application should be approved.
- 2019 federal and state tax returns for all adults, if filed. If they have not filed, the adult must complete a Michigan Treasury Form 4988 Poverty Exemption Affidavit and the IRS 4506-T form and provide a document proving their income from the past year.
- Proof of residency for all minors in the household. This includes: FIA statement, report card or transcript.
The city has made some changes to the application process because of the COVID-19 pandemic: A notarized signature is not required for 2020; 2019 and 2018 income tax returns will be accepted, and unemployment decisions will count as proof of income.
For the PAYS program, homeowners should first apply to HPTAP. Once approved, those eligible for PAYS will receive a letter from the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office with next steps about the back tax program.
Those who have back tax debt and do not qualify for HPTAP or were denied, can look into other payment plans at www.waynecounty.com.
What if I need help with my application?
Residents can get help with their application and drop off completed applications at the TCF Center from Dec. 7 to Monday, Dec. 14, said Tracey Lynn Pearson, a spokesperson for the city of Detroit. Hours are between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and appointments are not necessary.
A representative from the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office also will be available on-site to address questions regarding the PAYS program, Assessor Alvin Horhn said.
Those who need assistance can reach out to 14 nonprofit partners for help with completing the HPTAP application. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, residents should call the nonprofit closest to them and ask about remote services.
View the full list with contact information at www.detroitmi.gov/hptap.
Seniors 65 years of age and older may qualify for a shortened application. They can contact the United Community Housing Coalition at 313-405-7726 for help.
For more information about the two programs, call the City of Detroit’s Office of the Assessor at 313-224-3035.
Thousands of Detroiters have found help
More than 5,000 Detroiters have remained in their homes through the HPTAP program, said Willie Donwell, administrator of the city’s Board of Review.
“We continue to look at new ways to reduce the process even more for our most challenged homeowners. We only ask that if you need help, please apply,” he said in an email.
A survey by Quicken Loans Community Fund last year found that of the 25,000 homeowners behind on paying their property taxes, 55% indicated they were unaware of the HPTAP tax exemption.
The city of Detroit in 2018 agreed to create a more “streamlined” HPTAP application process and mail notices to homeowners every year about the program, after the American Civil Liberties Union and the city reached a settlement in a lawsuit where the ACLU claimed the city’s poverty tax exemption system was hard to apply for and not widely advertised.
Horhn said the Office of the Assessor has been calling residents who applied in 2019 for the HPTAP but hadn’t yet submitted their 2020 application, and are ramping up other outreach efforts.
Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree said in March that he would suspend foreclosures for the rest of 2020. When he announced the moratorium, there were 10,000 properties — including about 3,200 occupied homes — likely headed to the tax foreclosure auction.
In October, advocates urged Sabree to extend the moratorium on county property foreclosures through 2021 because of the economic upheaval of the pandemic. They also called on him to stop foreclosing on Detroit owner-occupied homes starting in 2022 and beyond.
A Detroit News investigation in January found the city overtaxed homeowners by at least $600 million between 2010 and 2016. In recent years, tax foreclosures of occupied homes in Detroit dropped from 9,111 in 2015 to 514 in 2019, according to city data.
Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and Bridge Detroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.Click here to support her work.
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