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Another Way Cities Can Protect Homeowners: End Tax Sales

Auctioning homes over unpaid taxes only makes racial and income inequities worse. The coronavirus crisis offers a good time to halt the practice, permanently.
Detroit has suspended the practice of auctioning off homes over unpaid taxes, in order to keep more people housed during the coronavirus crisis.
Detroit has suspended the practice of auctioning off homes over unpaid taxes, in order to keep more people housed during the coronavirus crisis.Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

Housing activists in Detroit got a surprise victory last month — and homeowners a welcome reprieve — when county officials announced they were suspending foreclosures on tax-delinquent homes and canceling their upcoming tax sale in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Advocates have long called for a moratorium on these public auctions, which have stripped thousands of families of their homes, destroyed communities, and compounded the city’s racial and economic inequities.

With the coronavirus suspending business as usual in America, it should also lead us to ask whether laws that allow local governments to sell people’s homes to private investors over unpaid tax bills should ever be resumed.