Detroit Evening Report: More than 5,500 family homes in Detroit passed down without legal documentation, report finds

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Detroit’s high property tax burden serves as a major obstacle towards residents’ upward economic mobility, however, there are interventions to address the city’s high tax rates.

An heirs’ property is a family-owned property inherited through generations or passed on to recipients without formal legal proceedings to prove ownership.

A new report from Detroit Future City revealed that over 5,500 inherited properties in Detroit could end up in legal limbo, complicating efforts to preserve generational wealth for Black families.

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The report, “Keeping Your Family Home: Addressing the Challenges of Inherited Properties in Detroit,” examines so-called heirs’ properties – homes passed down through generations without a legal transfer of property to a surviving relative. The properties identified in the report have owners who were listed in the city’s 2023 Tax Assessors’ data but had died between 2014 and 2022.

Together these homes are worth $270 million, with nearly 500 at immediate risk of tax foreclosure.

Ashley Williams Clark, director of the Center for Equity, Engagement, and Research at Detroit Future City, says their efforts to help the city’s Black middle class thrive led the organization to investigate local home ownership rates. 

“We were intrigued when the Gilbert Family Foundation reached out to us with this problem that they were seeing in their work, which is that people were going to access critical resources like tax foreclosure prevention or the HOPE property tax exemption, and finding out that they didn’t actually own the house that they had been living in, and that they thought that they had inherited from a family member,” she said.

Williams Clark says the report underscores the urgency of addressing informal property transfers, especially within communities historically affected by housing discrimination. 

Visit to read the full report.

Reporting by Amanda Le Claire, WDET

Other headlines for Monday, March 4, 2024:

  • Michigan State University’s new president, Kevin Guskiewicz, began his term on Monday amidst conflict among the school’s governing board, with the Board of Trustees censuring three members during a short-notice special meeting late Sunday night regarding allegations of misconduct on the board, and chairwoman Rema Vassar resigning from her post before the meeting.
  • The city of Detroit began tearing down another section of the Packard Plant on Monday, with demolition of the blighted plant expected to be complete by the end of the year, Mayor Mike Duggan announced.

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  • Nargis Rahman
    Nargis Hakim Rahman is the Civic Reporter at 101.9 WDET. Rahman graduated from Wayne State University, where she was a part of the Journalism Institute of Media Diversity.