VOD editor, June 19, 2017:  These videos of Prof. Atuahene giving a truly dynamic, riveting presentation at the Forum to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures are being published today. Further updates on the forum, which VOD covered and videotaped, will be forthcoming shortly. Professor Atuahene included the third video below at the beginning of her presentation.


People’s Forum: Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures

Sat. June 17 from 1-3:30 p.m. at WSU Law School

471 Palmer at Cass, Free Parking in Lot 32 across from Law School

Numerous organizations join Law Professor Bernadette Atuahene, call for fight to reverse Detroit tax foreclosures in revolutionary new approach

Class action lawsuit already underway

Coalition calls for “path to redistributive justice”

June 14, 2017

Cornell Squires speaks at tax foreclosure protest outside Wayne County Treasurer’s office April 30, 2015.

VOD Editor: This Sunday, June 18, VOD reporter/photographer Cornell Squires would have been 60 years old. A leader of We the People for the People, and RICObusters, he fought foreclosures throughout the tri-county area tirelessly. His firm position was that the people had a right to restitution of illegally paid taxes, not eviction, since the City of Detroit had not performed annual property value assessments required by the State Constitution and was charging its residents severely inflated tax rates.

Cornell Squires passed Nov. 19, 2016 of a heart attack, and we still mourn his loss. He would have been thrilled to hear of this new Coalition and in complete support of Prof. Atuahene’s analysis that Detroit tax rates are unconstitutional.

Cornell Squires: PRESENTE!

By the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures. 

The city of Detroit has illegally foreclosed on thousands of its poorest residents. In response, local activist groups have formed the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures. 

The Forum will hear from those who have been foreclosed on, and with them determine a path to redistributive justice against these illegal foreclosures.

Bernadette Atuahene, a Wayne State law professor, is leading the coalition and has published a column about this, originally in the Detroit Free Press last year at  

Below is an excerpt from that guest editorial.


“A Hurricane without water”

By Prof. Bernadette Atuahene

Law Prof. Bernadette Atuahene

Like with [Hurricane] Katrina, the property tax foreclosure crisis in Detroit has wiped out entire neighborhoods inhabited by poor and working-class Black people. From 2011-15, the Wayne County treasurer foreclosed upon approximately one in four Detroit properties for nonpayment of property taxes.

In fact, Detroit has one of the highest number of property tax foreclosures any American city has had since the Great Depression. Most important, once foreclosed properties are vacated, they are often vandalized, burned down or stripped of all valuable materials, creating a flood of blighted properties that decimate communities by reducing property values, attracting crime and causing those who can to evacuate. . . . I recently co-authored a study titled “Stategraft” that demonstrates that Detroit’s unprecedented property tax foreclosure rate is indefensible because property tax assessments in Detroit are, in fact, illegal.  

Luis and Cecilia Espinoza, who live with their 5 children in corner home in southwest Detroit, with Cornell Squires at right, show vacant and vandalized properties next door. Nonetheless, they were assessed astronomical tax rates in 2015.

Michigan’s  Constitution clearly decrees that a property’s assessed value cannot exceed 50% of its market value. In our study, we find that Detroit’s assessor is flagrantly violating this vital state constitutional provision. Consequently, contrary to popular narratives, it is the city that is stealing from Detroit property owners through illegal assessments and inflated property tax bills, and not the other way around. And while the city has reassessed properties during the last two years, those actions have not been enough to bring most assessments in line with the Michigan Constitution. 

[In Stategraft”] we find that, in 2009, 65.5% of the properties sold violated the state constitutional assessment limit.  In subsequent years the numbers were equally shocking:

2010 (84.7%)                               2011 (54.6%)                     2012 (71.4%)                            2013 (78.2%)                               2014 (83.2%)                     2015 (64.7)

The property tax assessments were not only above the legal limit, but they also exceeded it by a substantial sum. For instance, in 2010, assessments were, on average, 7.3 times higher than the legal limit. In 2015, assessments were, on average, 2.1 times higher than the legal limit.

Duggan’s point man Dan Gilbert is head of his Demolition Task Force. Gilbert’s Quicken Loans is responsible for many of the city’s mortgage foreclosures.

In all years studied, the illegality was most pronounced for lower-valued properties. That is, the city is more likely to assess modest homes at illegal levels than it is more expensive homes, leaving the most vulnerable homeowners drowning in injustice. 

Detroit’s mayor, Mike Duggan — a former prosecutor — acknowledged that “for years, homes across the city have been over assessed,” and tried to remedy this in 2014 and 2015 by implementing assessment decreases for most of the city, ranging from 5% to 20%.

Our study shows that illegal property tax assessments nevertheless persist for lower-valued properties despite these reductions. For example, in 2015, properties with the lowest values were, on average, assessed at 4.8 times the legal limit, while properties with the highest values were, on average, legally assessed.

Both before and after Duggan’s assessment reductions, those who can afford only modest properties have been subject to the most severe illegality and forced to endure the consequences of Detroit’s broken levees.

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the law firm of Covington & Burling filed a class action  alleging that the unprecedented number of property tax foreclosures in Detroit is unlawful on several counts, including the fact that the property tax assessments systematically violate the state constitution and the Fair Housing Act. The findings of “Stategraft” strongly support this claim.

Occupy Detroit and Moratorium NOW blockade Detroit home slated for eviction in 2011.

The end goal of the class action is to stop all property tax foreclosures that are based upon illegal assessments. As an interim measure, the legal team recently filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would place a moratorium on property tax foreclosures of owner-occupied properties in Detroit and throughout Wayne County.

. . . . just as we do not allow homeless people in desperate need to burglarize homes, we should not allow the City of Detroit to use unlawful assessments and inflated property tax bills to steal money from Detroit property owners. Additionally, the requested moratorium is narrowly tailored so that it protects only vulnerable homeowners and not investors. 

Given the mortgage foreclosure crisis, water shutoffs and historic bankruptcy, the people of Detroit have already had to weather several devastating storms. Now that they are facing a hurricane without water, the federal government cannot leave Detroiters stranded. 

The ACLU website for the lawsuit is at

The Coalition to End Unconstitutional Foreclosures has a website at

A Facebook page at

An Events page at

Contacts  at 313-466-2293,, twitter @illforeclosures

Members of Coalition to End Unconstitutional Foreclosures


To our readers: Voice of Detroit is published pro bono. You don’t have to pay to access our stories. But there are substantial out-of pocket costs associated with its publication. Any donation amount is much appreciated. Unfortunately, our Donate button recently went down, but you can still donate by clicking

We sincerely thank We the People of Detroit, one of the sponsors of the Coalition to End Unconstitutional Tax Foreclosures, for their recent kind donation, which came just in time to keep our phone on! Call us at 313-825-6126 for more info on Voice of Detroit.

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  1. Amir says:

    Nice Article. Thanks

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