A retired Marine Sergeant was stripped from his house after just owing $134 in property taxes due to a popular increasing trend in debt collection programs, Hit the jump for more details!

Adriela Batista

On the day that U.S marshals came to Bennie Coleman’s house to take all of his belongings out of his home, the marine vet simply pulled out his lawn chair, sat across the street and watched as they hauled away many of his life accomplishments. Prize possessions including: his easy chair, his clothes, his television, his Marine Corps medals and even photographs of his dead wife, Martha, were taken out without a care by law enforcement due to a small debt that Coleman owed.

He lost his home two years ago through a “tax lien sale — an obscure program run by D.C. government that enlists private investors to help the city recover unpaid taxes.”

The debt collection program, targets elderly residents, especially ones with health conditions, or on hospice, by taking the money that they owe, tripling their debt and stripping them from their homes.

“…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”

“As the housing market soared, the investors scooped up liens in every corner of the city, then started charging homeowners thousands in legal fees and other costs that far exceeded their original tax bills, with rates for attorneys reaching $450 an hour”

The program leaves families with little to no option other than to borrow from another source in order to pay their debts or enlist on large payment plans. Those without any options were left to fend for themselves without their homes. The Investor’s did not only seize homes but extended their services to seizing small family owned businesses, parking lots and vacant land.

“This is destroying lives,” said Christopher Leinberger, a distinguished scholar and research professor of urban real estate at George Washington University.

Yet officials at the D.C Office Of Tax And Revenue states that without the property taxes, residents would not pay their bills:

“The tax sale is the last resort. It’s also the first resort — it’s the only way in the statute to collect debt,” said deputy chief financial officer Stephen Cordi”

The foreclosures on the properties are clearly biased as they focus on the properties of families living in distraught circumstances and neighborhoods. “Houses were taken from a housekeeper, a department store clerk, a seamstress and even the estates of dead people. The hardest hit: elderly homeowners, who were often sick or dying when tax lien purchasers seized their houses”

Washington Post