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Dewar Co-Authors Study on Property Tax Relief and Foreclosure Prevention in Detroit

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Margaret Dewar, professor emerita of urban and regional planning, has published an article in Housing Studies titled “‘It’s like they make it difficult for you on purpose’: barriers to property tax relief and foreclosure prevention in Detroit, Michigan.” 

The study, which was co-authored with Alexa Eisenberg, a doctoral candidate in the School of Public Health, and Roshanak Mehdipanah, an assistant professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health, investigates why tax relief policies are often underutilized, causing an increase in tax foreclosures.

As the study explains, Michigan law exempts low-income homeowners from paying property taxes. This law, known as the Poverty Tax Exemption, is complicated by state and local procedures that place the burden of researching and applying for an exemption on homeowners.

After the 2008 financial crisis, many American cities faced property tax delinquency. Homeowners either abandoned their homes or continued residing in them without paying property taxes. Rather than allow owner-occupied homes to be foreclosed, the Poverty Tax Exemption was designed to allow homeowners experiencing poverty to remain in their homes without paying property taxes. 

The Detroit homeowners interviewed for the study all owed back taxes and were at risk of tax foreclosure. They described their experiences with the Poverty Tax Exemption, saying that the application was complicated to fill out and difficult to obtain and that the office administering the exemptions had poor communication with residents about the status of their application.

The study found that eliminating the institutional barriers to property tax relief would reduce the number of owner-occupied foreclosures in Detroit.

Dewar studies economic development, urban environmental planning, and urban land use. Her current projects address remaking cities following abandonment and strengthening deteriorated neighborhoods.