Published January 23, 2013
County treasurer announces tax-foreclosure program
By Jeremy Selweski jSelweski@candgnews.com
OAKLAND COUNTY — The county is taking part in a new statewide tax-rescue program that will provide a lifeline for homeowners mired in tax debt.
According to Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, the property tax foreclosure prevention initiative will help pay the delinquent property taxes, interest, fees and dues of eligible homeowners. Dubbed the Step Forward Michigan Loan Rescue Program, the initiative went live Jan. 15. It allows homeowners to apply for up to $30,000 of federal “Hardest Hit” funds administered by the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to help Oakland County families who are struggling with tax foreclosure stay in their homes,” Meisner said. “When people are able to stay in their homes for the long term, it’s good for everyone. This program is in the best interest of these families, their neighborhood, their local government and Oakland County as a whole, because it brings in some much-needed revenue.”
As Meisner explained, in 2010, Michigan was one of several states picked to receive “Hardest Hit” funds from the U.S. government. About $498 million in federal money was set aside to help Michigan homeowners who are facing mortgage foreclosure get back on their feet again.
However, Meisner said, “The wheels of government have not been setting any land-speed records with that program, that’s for sure. The eligibility requirements for the program are pretty strict, so there’s still quite a lot of money left over, and now they’ve expanded it to include people who are undergoing tax foreclosure.”
It turns out that “quite a lot of money” amounts to about $205 million. Interested homeowners can apply for a grant through Meisner’s office, and those who qualify could receive up to $30,000 to go toward their delinquent tax bills.
In order to qualify for the Step Forward Michigan Loan Rescue Program, applicants must live in their home as a primary residence, demonstrate a significant financial hardship — such as unemployment, reduced income, medical bills or divorce payments — that has caused them to fall behind on their property tax obligations, and cannot have more than six months of family cash in reserve. Previous beneficiaries of other “Hardest Hit” or Step Forward Michigan programs are not eligible to receive funding.
Laurie Glass, a real estate agent for Sotheby’s International Realty in Birmingham, believes that this program can be a great benefit for Oakland County families, particularly those who have been heavily impacted by the recession.
“Foreclosure will really decimate the value of a home, which can hurt appraisals for the whole neighborhood,” said Glass, a Huntington Woods resident. “Once a home gets to the foreclosure stage, people often are at the point where they’ve stopped maintaining it because they know they’re going to lose it anyway. You never want a family to have to go through that because it’s a very difficult process. I think the idea of assisting people with staying in their homes can only be a positive thing — it’s the most responsible thing you can do to help a homeowner.”
Glass pointed out that she recently had a client in Redford whose home was devalued to around $25,000 simply because there were so many foreclosed properties throughout her neighborhood.
“Those foreclosures were so detrimental to her neighborhood that her own property value was just decimated,” she said. “That has been a huge problem in many communities all over the Detroit area. Eventually, I believe that home prices are going to come back and the economy is going to get better, but in the meantime, I’m glad that there’s something out there to help more people stay in their homes.”
According to Meisner, there were about 1,600 Oakland County properties that underwent tax foreclosure in 2012. While there is no guarantee that a homeowner’s Step Forward Michigan application is going to be accepted, the treasurer noted that his office is being proactive by sending out letters to about 10,000 county homeowners encouraging them to apply for the program. He also recommended that all applicants contact his office to utilize its people and resources for professional assistance.
“As Oakland County treasurer, I want to make sure that everyone who is eligible for this program is applying for it,” Meisner said. “This type of opportunity doesn’t happen very often. This is a huge deal that can help some people who have been through the ringer. I want to do everything I can to ensure that we reach as many people as possible.”
For more information on the Step Forward Michigan Loan Rescue Program, contact Oakland County Deputy Treasurer Lauren Bloom at (248) 858-0624, call the MSHDA foreclosure prevention hotline at (866) 946-7432, or visit www.stepforwardmichigan.org.