Detroit — A coalition fighting for fairness in property tax assessments joined Thursday with economists, legal and finance scholars to call for state and city leaders to investigate the ongoing “inaccuracy” and “inequity” in property tax assessments in Detroit.
The Coalition for Property Tax Justice contends multiple studies have found that the lowest-valued homes in Detroit continue to be overassessed — even after an $8.4 million citywide reappraisal in 2017 — and that it’s “putting thousands of Detroiters at risk of unjust foreclosure.”
Tom Perriello, executive director of The Open Society Foundation, said it’s “beyond disputable fact” that illegally inflated property taxes is a national problem that is well-documented in Detroit.
“This is not just not a robbing of wealth, it’s a robbing of dignity or a robbing of people’s access to the American dream and the system that we tell them to believe in,” he said during the Thursday news conference.
Perriello and others have signed on to a letter affirming findings in a study conducted last year by Christopher Berry of the Center for Municipal Finance at the University of Chicago. That study concluded the city’s residential property tax methodology continues to harm Detroiters.
“Excessive property taxes can lead to financial distress, including mortgage default and
foreclosure, and it is vital that they are assessed accurately and equitably,” the coalition and scholars contend in the letter in support of the University of Chicago study.
“We have no stake in any dispute about the proper assessment of real property in Detroit that could create a conflict,” the letter adds. “We are concerned only with whether research about that assessment is done credibly and that the conclusions are justified.”
The press conference follows a Tuesday report by Bloomberg on the nationwide impact of assessments on Black communities, including Detroit. The report examined instances nationally of local officials overvaluing the lowest-priced homes relative to the highest-priced homes.
The administration of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit Assessor Alvin Horhn have pushed back on the study’s findings, saying the gap between home prices and assessments was largely closed in 2014 when the mayor took office and dropped assessments. The administration has said it doesn’t believe overassessments are still happening in Detroit but stressed that assessments vary by neighborhood.
Horhn on Thursday said Berry’s study was too narrow and he considers it “invalid” because it didn’t follow the same rules and process that the city is required to use for valuing properties.
Berry, he noted, examined Detroit’s residential properties in 10 clusters and compared 900-square-foot bungalows that sold for $8,000 with 2,000-square-foot properties that sold for $200,000. There are 194 residential neighborhoods in…