African Americans in Wayne County are suffering from a tax foreclosure crisis more severe than any this region has seen since the Great Depression. But unlike the Great Depression, the homeowners today are at risk of losing their homes for taxes they never should have been required to pay in the first place.
The ACLU of Michigan, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and lawyers from Covington & Burling LLP filed a class-action lawsuit against the Wayne County Treasurer, Wayne County and the City of Detroit on July 13, 2016 to challenge illegal, racially discriminatory tax foreclosures that have pummeled African-American homeowners in recent years.
Named plaintiffs in the suit are homeowners Walter Hicks, Julia Aikens, Dewhannea Fox, Edward Knapp, Robert Lewis, DeAunna Black and Spirlin Moore. The Historic Russell Woods-Sullivan Area Association, the MorningSide Community Organization, the Oakman Boulevard Community Association and Neighbors Building Brightmoor are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in Third Circuit Court in Wayne County.
Read more about the plaintiffs below.
The City of Detroit had the wrong man, and Walter Hicks knew it.
In 2014, the 57-year-old Hicks, a disabled Detroit homeowner who lives off of barely more than $15,000 a year in social-services benefits, went to the city municipal building to apply for a poverty exemption from his property tax bill. Although an appraisal of the fair-market value of the home estimated it to be worth about $9,000, an overinflated assessment by the City of Detroit in 2013 had bloated the supposed cash value of Hicks' home—to more than $40,000.
As a result of the $31,000 over-assessment, Hicks' tax bill stood at more than $1,600.
"I just want to be treated fairly," says Hicks.