When multiple area organizations and nonprofits discovered in recent months they shared a common client, these diverse groups came together for the betterment of this individual. This person asked not to be specifically identified, but for the sake of story flow, he will be referred to as Tom – as he is central to understanding how these various groups work and how they can help others in need in the Shiawassee County region.
Tom, who is over 62, is a homeowner living on very low income – not an uncommon description for many individuals living in Shiawassee County. Because Tom was living on such a constrained budget, he fell behind on paying his property taxes and then not having the means to pay his taxes, the debt snowballed over a three-year period and he faced foreclosure on his home. Tom then received financial literacy counseling through the Capital Area Community Service Financial Literacy program and was connected to Jim Crain. Crain is a financial literacy counselor who provides financial advocacy and property tax foreclosure prevention for people like Tom.
Crain explained how he was able to assist Tom. The county property tax information is provided through county offices under Shiawassee County Treasurer Julie Sorenson. Often people facing tax issues are hesitant, fearful or even anxious to reach out directly to the county to explain how or why they have fallen behind on tax payments. Crain encourages people to be less fearful on communicating with the county.
Crain stepped in, was able to first get an extension to hold off the foreclosure, giving them time to apply for a poverty tax exemption – based on income and household size. Very few people qualify for this exemption and it has to be reapplied for annually. Tom qualified, though there were hurdles that had to be faced, particularly as the pandemic shut down set in.
Crain explained, “People have all these blocks put in place and I need to realign all the blocks to get them on the right path by going back to basics.” Simply stated, Crain helps people rebuild financial foundations.
Months along in the process, Crain connected Tom to Becky Zemla at the CACS office in Owosso. Crain recognized that Tom needed further resources. “I needed her guidance with her networks with other people to continue to help,” he shared.
Zemla was confronted with another problem Tom was facing. His power was going to be shut off. In conversing with Crain, yet another issue was identified. Tom’s roof was in major disrepair and needed to be replaced.
The immediate problem Zemla helped with was the power shut off issue. With Zemla’s help, Tom applied to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and was granted roughly 1/6 of the money he needed to prevent the power being turned off. Zemla then contacted the Salvation Army who were able to help with the remaining sum. The Salvation Army also enrolled Tom into the CARES program (Consumers Affordable Resource for Energy).
In the mix of all of this, Tom still faced property foreclosure. CACS helped connect Tom to the SER (State Emergency Relief) program and with state help, Tom’s property taxes were paid off.
Following, dealing with the property tax issue and the power shut off problem, Tom still had a roof that was in a desperate state. Zemla and CACS sought estimates on the roof and it was estimated he needed over $14,000 to completely replace the roof. At this juncture, Zemla at CACS reached out to another resource at the USDA Rural Development through Laura Leplow.
Many low-income individuals are not aware of resources available to them through the USDA Rural Development. Leplow was able to help Tom – who is over 62 and very low income – to apply for the Single Family Housing Direct Loan program. In Shiawassee County, a family of 1 to 4, with an annual income of $55,900 or less might be eligible depending on if the property is rurally located, not income producing, modest in size and a few other stipulations. To be eligible for the assistance, the home repairs must be associated with a health or safety concern – such as Tom’s roof.
Tom was eligible for the maximum grant of up to $10,000 toward his roof, so between the USDA Rural Development’s grant and the CARES program helping with the balance, Tom now has a new roof – and most importantly – can remain in his home now having been connected to all of these multiple organizations and nonprofits who could help him out.
Shiawassee County Treasurer Julie Sorensen wants to assure property owners in Shiawassee County that the treasurer’s office is willing and can help. People facing property tax issues should not put off calling the treasurer’s office since Sorensen and staff can connect people to any number of local resources including help through CACS. Sorensen and her team recognize that facing down a “big lump sum of money can be intimidating.” The treasurer’s office can help people figure out ways of dealing with property tax situations.
Sorensen encourages people to pay – even small monthly increments – toward their property taxes. She explained that when faced with foreclosure, if a person has been trying to pay some amount toward what is owed, an extension request can go before a judge and the judge will often grant the request. Obviously, the county does not want to remove people who wish to remain in their home.
Sorensen also mentioned a brand new state program for homeowners facing hardships available through the Michigan Homeowner Assistance Fund (MIHAF). More information on MIHAF can be found at www.michigan.gov.
Sorenson knew of Tom’s story. She shared he had regularly made payments toward what was owed – paying what he could, given his limited income.
“People are just afraid to ask for help sometimes,” Sorensen shared. “I tell people, sometimes bad things happen to good people and the help is there for you, too.”
The Shiawassee County Treasurer’s office is located in the county courthouse and the office can be reached at (989) 743-2224. Capital Area Community Services is located on Corunna Avenue and the number is (989) 723-3115.