Investigation into D.C. tax lien practice sparks outrage

September 9, 2013

Washington Post investigation looking into the impact of the District’s tax lien sales has drawn attention to the program and elicited outrage from D.C. officials and others in the region.

The investigation chronicled how years of abuses and breakdowns in the program have resulted in scores of foreclosures, with nearly 200 homes taken since 2005:

For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid.

But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.

The stories (you can read Part One here and Part Two here) about a retired Marine sergeant, a 95-year-old church choir leader struggling with Alzheimer’s and others who lost their homes have sparked considerable outrage:

Mayor Vincent C. Gray expressed outrage at a Monday morning news conference, saying that he would introduce emergency legislation next week to put a moratorium on the practice.

The third part of the investigation — about hundreds of mistakes in recent years that have seen property owners deemed delinquent even after they paid their taxes — arrives on Tuesday.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman · September 9, 2013