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 to challenge illegal, racially discriminatory tax foreclosures that have pummeled African-American homeowners in recent years. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of seven Detroit homeowners and a coalition of neighborhood associations from throughout the city, alleges that the Wayne County Treasurer is preparing to seize the homes of thousands of county homeowners because they failed to pay taxes that they should never have been assessed. 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.
Plaintiffs contend that the Wayne County Treasurer’s practice of foreclosing on homes despite the well-known illegal over-assessments underlying each tax debt constitutes illegal housing discrimination, in violation of the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). The FHA bars not only intentional housing discrimination, but also neutral practices that have an adverse disparate impact on people of color. The Wayne County Treasurer’s practice has a significant disparate impact on African Americans in the county. The complaint alleges that the tax foreclosure rate in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Wayne County is 10 to 15 times higher than the rate of foreclosures in predominantly non-African-American areas.