NEZs Seal the Deal

When you ask Crystal Miller whether Harbortown’s qualification as a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone, or NEZ, influenced her condominium purchase last year, she responds with a resounding yes.

“The Neighborhood Enterprise Zone status was quite attractive to me. I looked at homes in Farmington Hills and Westland first, but when I checked out some places downtown and discovered how much I could save on property taxes because of the NEZ, my home search turned to finding a place in the city that I wanted to live,” she says.

A Northwest Airlines flight attendant for the past 13 years, Miller, a divorcee, lived in a 2,000-square-foot house in Southfield with her aunt before relocating to a one-bedroom condo on the East Riverfront. She says the property taxes on her Southfield home were about $5,000 a year. Although her new home is significantly smaller in size, the property taxes for her 750-square-foot condo were $750 in 2005 — a clear savings.

Like Miller, a growing number of new Detroit homeowners have been wooed by the city’s Neighborhood Enterprise Zones, geographic boundaries that entitle homeowners in qualifying lofts, condominiums and houses to receive reduced property taxes for a fixed period of time, usually 12 years. According to the State of Michigan’s NEZ Activity List, Detroit granted NEZ status to more than 1,270 properties in 2004 and 2005 alone.

Are NEZs really that beneficial for homeowners?

Mike Shore of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation believes they are. He says Neighborhood Enterprise Zones are a win-win for homeowners and distressed urban communities like Detroit because they encourage development in areas that might not otherwise be developed.

With property tax rates among the highest in the state, it’s difficult for an urban community like Detroit to compete with the constant slew of houses being built in third- and fourth-ring suburbs, but programs like Neighborhood Enterprise Zones even the playing field for Detroit by making city living an affordable alternative to the often cookie-cutter housing found in the newer ‘burbs.

“With NEZs, homeowners can buy more house than they could elsewhere … and when the demand for housing increases, you get construction of higher-quality homes,” he says, adding that NEZs help preserve local architecture because they make it easier all the way around to redevelop older structures.

NEZ 101

Once a homeowner receives a NEZ certificate – the document issued after the NEZ zone has been designated and the application process is approved by local and state governments – the property is officially classified as NEZ and the homeowner is exempt from regular property taxes and is now responsible for paying a special tax, known as the NEZ Tax.

There are certain factors that go into determining the NEZ rate, but it basically boils down to the classification of the property – whether it is a new facility, a rehabilitated facility or a qualifying homestead.

According to Jon Grabowski, president of Esquire Properties in Detroit, calculating the annual property tax savings for NEZ-qualified homes labeled as new construction is fairly easy: the NEZ tax rate is about one-half of the previous year’s statewide property tax average.

Grabowski explains that homes and condominiums in rehabilitated structures are a little trickier, though, because the rate is based on the value of the property before it was redeveloped.

“Rehabilitated properties vary significantly,” he says. “I usually estimate that homeowners in these types of NEZ properties will pay about 40 to 60 percent of the regular tax rate, but it varies.”

Grabowski adds that homeowners in 200 River Place pay about 91 percent less than what their regular taxes would be based on current property values, while homeowners in Garden Court pay about 56 percent of what they’d pay if the units were not in a NEZ zone.

“It’s definitely a selling point down here,” he says.

Lisa Debs, owner of Detroit Urban Living, agrees with Grabowski on that. “An NEZ can make or break a deal,” she says.

She also agrees that NEZ taxes can vary greatly on rehabilitated properties. “If land wasn’t included in the NEZ tax rate, the property tax for a unit at The Carola (in Brush Park) would have been $1.06 in 2005. With the land added in, the rate came to $735 for the year,” she says.

Attracting consumers

Though he would have preferred the $1.06 a year, a property tax rate of $735 per year is still low enough to attract people like Kevin Morin, a 26-year-old Bloomfield Hills native who’s looking in Detroit for a new place to live.

Morin works downtown and has spent quite a bit of time over the last year checking out different properties. “As a consumer, it seems like the NEZ makes everything work out in terms of how much you’re spending just to live here,” he says, explaining that the tax savings he would get by living in a NEZ-qualified property in Detroit would help cancel out the other out-of-pocket expenses of city living, such as higher auto insurance premiums.

Though he hasn’t made a decision yet, Morin is intrigued by the NEZ and feels it’s a good tool in helping the city measure up to other local areas, such as Royal Oak, which attract the area’s young professionals. He also sees the transferability of the NEZ certificate from one buyer to the next until the 12 year period is up as an added selling feature.

Though Morin has limited his search of Detroit properties to condos and lofts thus far, amendments to the NEZ legislation that were signed on Jan. 3 by Gov. Jennifer Granholm could mean he’ll check out some houses in Detroit, too.

Under the newly amended law, the scope of the 1992 Neighborhood Enterprise Zone Act is expanded to include not just new and rehabilitated residences, but qualifying homestead facilities as well. As with the other two types of NEZs, qualifying homesteads must meet certain criteria to be considered for NEZ status. For instance, the home has to have been purchased after December 30, 1997 and it must be in a subdivision that was platted before January 1, 1968. Though it has its boundaries, it does open up more reasons to move to Detroit.

“For me, it’s really a no-brainer. I’ll make my choice based on the best value and savings,” Morin says.




NEZ FAQ

What is a NEZ?

A Neighborhood Enterprise Zone (NEZ) is a geographic boundary in an eligible community that allows tax abatements for homeowners for a period of time, usually 12 years.

Why were NEZs created?

The State of Michigan created NEZs to increase residential development in areas where it otherwise might not occur.

Does having an NEZ certificate mean I don’t have to pay property taxes?

No. NEZ certificate holders are exempt from regular property taxes, but pay a special tax known as the NEZ Tax. For owners of new construction, the taxes are one-half the statewide average property tax rate. Owners of rehabilitated housing pay taxes based on the value of the property not including land before the rehabilitation. 

Can homes in any area of the state be considered for NEZ qualification?

No. Only communities deemed as “eligible distressed areas” by the state can utilize the NEZ program. Public Act 346 describes the criteria a community must meet to qualify as an “eligible distressed area”. As of January 3, 2005, there were 122 areas, 96 cities, 25 townships and 1 village in Michigan classified as “eligible distressed areas”.



Photos:

Harbortown

The Elllington

200 River Place

The Carola



All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger