‘They’re taking people’s lives’

September 9, 2013

The tax lien purchaser who foreclosed on Bennie Coleman’s house later sold it. On an overcast morning earlier this year, Coleman walked past his old house on the way to the corner store. But he said he could not look at it — the memories were too painful. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Once yearly, the District’s Office of Tax and Revenue auctions off hundreds of tax liens — unpaid property tax bills that, until recently, amounted in some cases to a few hundred dollars or less. In the great majority of cases, the sale prompts property owners to pay their debts, plus interest and fees to the buyer, filling city coffers and relieving the administrative burden on tax collectors. In many cases, however, owners are unable to pay and the process moves to foreclosure. Many of those affected, the Post’s investigative team found in a 10-month probe, are elderly, hold relatively small tax debts, and live in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. There are people like Bennie Coleman, a 76-year-old dementia-riddled veteran, who lost his house over a $134 tax bill. Or a 65-year-old flower shop owner who lost his home while he was dying of cancer in a hospice. Or a 95-year-old church choir leader and Alzheimer’s patient who lost her home over $44.79. On the other side are a cadre of sometimes unscrupulous investors who took advantage of a poorly overseen system with few of the curbs common in other jurisdictions to engage in apparent bid rigging to divvy properties and pursue foreclosures.

In other news:

Tattoo-waiting-period proposal inspires epic facepalm (PostWAMU-FMDCistCity Desk)

Colby King to council members: “Don’t wait for the FBI to come calling. Now’s the time to get right with the government.” (Post column)

Party and parade for grand opening of 11th Street Bridge local span (Post)

“Five education issues to watch in D.C. this school year” (Post)

Whistleblowing paramedic doesn’t appear to have violated HIPAA (WTTG-TV)

Brandywine home of D.C. firefighter killed in motorcycle accident is burglarized during funeral (WTTG-TVWJLA-TVWRC-TV)

Anacostia teen Ayinde Grimes talks about life in post-Trayvon America: “I see how my country sees me” (Post)

Michelle Obama drops in at Orr Elementary with Shaq to promote healthy eating and exercise (Post)

FTC commissioner tees off on the Taxicab Commission, intimates lawsuit could be justified (Post op-ed)

Mary Cheh suggests taxi industry could be regulated by new transportation authority (Loose Lips)

Irv Nathan says Joe Mamo’s gasoline business model is bad for D.C. (Post letter)

Will the Park Service really be able to create a better Franklin Square? (Housing Complex)

Read the full “Living wage bill = U.S.S.R.” e-mail (HuffPo)

How one broken Metro elevator can make life miserable for the disabled (WTTG-TV)

Former presidential aspirant from N.C. stands accused of bring small arsenal to Capitol grounds (Crime Stories)

All-Met Woodson cornerback is ruled ineligible due to residency questions (Post)

Downtown office market cools off, but downtown condo market still super-strong (Capital Business)

The decaying corpse of Lehman Brothers finally markets fallow site next to Nationals Park (WBJ)

Is recess being cut at DCPS for more instruction or for more testing? (GGW)

Some DCPS teacher see paycheck problems (Post)

Gray radio address highlights sequestration impacts (WNEW-FM)

Kenneth G. Sweet, 30, was shot to death in Washington Highlands (Post)

Participant in Woodley Park Metro stabbing death pleads guilty to manslaughter charge (Post)

Sunday night stabbing along Georgetown waterfront (AP)

Famed ramen chef admits to assault (Young & Hungry)

Viral-video pizzeria robber pleads to armed robbery (City Desk)

Vandal shatters Virgin Mary picture at Ethiopian Orthodox church (WUSA-TV)

With reader warning of “gruesome accidents,” Dr. G says there are reasons to be wary of streetcars (Dr. Gridlock)

Chicago columnist describes her “Pavlovian” response to D.C. speed cameras (Sun-Times)

Another round of hand-wringing over “Buzzard Point” (Housing Complex)

Doug Jemal may bring a Crate & Barrel to H Street (UrbanTurf)

Union Station is getting a Shake Shack (WBJ)

Friday night rocket launch dazzles (Post)

Frager’s paint store is back in action (Post)

Scholarship fund established in Josh Burdette’s memory (WNEW-FM)

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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