Help available for Alpena property owners

Alpena residents having trouble paying their property taxes for 2011 can now get help, and the money is coming from federal TARP funds, an official said.

If the acronym sounds familiar, it is the same Troubled Asset Relief Program that provided bailouts to big businesses swamped by the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008.

Mary Townley, director of home ownership for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, said the fund contains $200 million, but this amount could drop based on demand. Called Step Forward Michigan, the fund also can be used to help distressed property owners catch up on mortgage payments if they qualify.

So far, Alcona and Presque Isle counties have joined the new program, which was launched Jan. 15. Montmorency and Alpena counties are still studying the issue. Regardless, tax assistance is still available to the public, she said.

The program targets county taxpayers who are full-time residents. Those who qualify can receive up to $30,000 toward their delinquent property tax bills, although the money is paid directly from the MSHDA to mortgage lenders, and then on to county coffers, Townley said. The money is considered a loan, but 20 percent is forgiven each year for up to five years, if the resident remains in their home.

Townley described the kind of person who would need help:

  • often they are older and have worked hard all their lives
  • have experienced a hardship, such as hospitalization, and have to pay unexpected medical bills
  • are on a fixed income
  • have always paid their property taxes on time in the past
  • have the ability to support themselves going forward

“We’re not going to step in and help someone going on a cruise in a month,” Townley said.

Michigan’s program was designed with input received from five county treasurers, she said. They were asked what they were hearing from the public and the kinds of tax problems they were seeing in their communities.

“Sometimes it’s a one-time situation,” she said.

Help with the program is free, so are face-to-face sessions that help guide property owners through the process, she said. Property owners must be U.S. citizens, provide copies of their property tax notices, complete a financial worksheet and document evidence of hardship.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693.