The mayor of Washington pledged Tuesday to put an end to shoddy tax practices that have led to the seizure of homes in the nation's capital.
Mayor Vincent Gray is "appalled" to find out that the city has been "kicking senior citizens out of their homes for as little as $150 in unpaid property taxes," the mayor's spokesman, Pedro Ribeiro, told AFP.
"We're going to do what we can do to fix that now."
On his Twitter account, the mayor condemned the tax practices, revealed in a Washington Post investigative report, as "unacceptable".
The Post, in a three-part series that began over the weekend, cast a spotlight on the aggressive practices of the city's Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), which for years had recovered outstanding tax debts by selling liens on homeowners' delinquencies to investors.
Some of those investors used predatory practices to turn relatively small late tax payments into thousands of dollars of debt, including interest.
The practices have allowed investors to foreclose on almost 200 houses since 2005 in the US capital, officially known as the District of Columbia (DC), and lien holders are in the process of seeking control of 1,200 more, the newspaper said.
Of those who lost their properties in recent years, one in three had liens of less than $1,000.
Many of the foreclosures were in Washington's poorest neighborhoods, affecting people without the means to pay off their ballooned debts.
A case in point: a 76-year-old ex-Marine, suffering dementia, who lost his $197,000 home in 2011 after his initial delinquent tax bill of $134 swelled into a $4,999 debt.
"We all knew that the District sells its tax liens. What we didn't know was that the CFO was selling tax liens for as little as $150 for seniors citizens who had dementia," Ribeiro said.
Mayor Evans has called for an emergency moratorium on these practices but lacks the direct authority to stop them, his spokesman said.
The District of Columbia's financial operations are "fully independent" of the mayor and the city council, Ribeiro said.
© AFP 2013