My Turn: Stop taking all equity in home seizures now

Greenfield City Hall

Greenfield City Hall STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Satheesh Sankaran/via Pixabay

Satheesh Sankaran/via Pixabay Satheesh Sankaran/via Pixabay

By SUSANAE GLOVACKI

Published: 05-08-2024 6:29 PM

 

I don’t like to read the legal ads. The print is too small and it feels like you need a degree in legal studies to understand them. But on April 13 of this year, the city of Greenfield took out a full-page ad in the Recorder listing residents who were behind on their property taxes. It was in large print with easy to understand language.

It was hard to look away from this, as it is hard sometimes to look away from a highway accident as you slowly file past. Is this someone I know? How bad is the damage? Could this happen to me? How did this happen? Are they going to be OK?

But falling behind on one’s property taxes does not happen suddenly and it does not happen in plain view, for all to see. It is always the result of hard economic times born in private at kitchen tables with great anxiety and anguish. For the life of me I cannot understand why the city of Greenfield sees fit to drag this personal turmoil, possibly tragedy, out into the public eye.

But of course, this step is necessary when the city decides to move forward to seize property due to unpaid taxes. Never mind that the amount of taxes owed ranges from just $54 to $9,000, or that the regulations state that the city may begin the process just 14 days after property taxes have gone unpaid.

I want to hear from our new mayor that the city has done absolutely everything possible to assist our neighbors to make good on their tax debt before the city takes this action. I want to hear that this is a long process, that the city offers financial counseling or referrals for free counseling, and that local banks are joining in to help.

But most importantly, I want to hear from our new mayor, who I fully support, that the city has decided, immediately, to stop seizing the full equity of properties in order to cover property tax debt.

Other letter writers and articles have detailed how this seizure of the full equity of properties, no matter how large the debt, is happening in Greenfield, and all over the country. But almost a year ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that this practice is unconstitutional. Greenfield, and the commonwealth, have yet to bring their practice, and laws, up to date.

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The previous mayor said her “hands were tied,” as she couldn’t change our practices until the Legislature changed the laws. But this is not true, as many cities across the state have already stopped this practice, relying on the words “may take” in the statute to allow them to change practices regarding seizure of full equity.

In terms of changing the law, late breaking from State House News Service, May 1: New Bedford State Sen. Mark Montigny (D), who has been filing legislation to address this since 2018, says that he will attach it “to any document flying through the Legislature that looks like it’s got a better chance of getting to the governor’s desk before the end of the session.”

Susannah Whipps, an independent from Athol, is a co-sponsor. This seems like progress, but let’s not hold our breath, Greenfield.

This practice is not only unconstitutional, it is immoral, it is cruel, and it needs to stop immediately.

In the meantime, anyone affected by this life-disrupting situation should be aware that at least one lawsuit has been filed against the city. You are urged to contact Greenfield residents Mitch Speight and Joan Marie Jackson or Al Norman, for help to consider your options. We are so lucky to have these activists spending so much time and energy to make this right.

Susanae Glovacki lives in Greenfield.