Mayor Vince Gray called for a moratorium on tax lien sales this morning, following a Washington Post investigation that found that a handful of investors had gamed D.C.’s system to deprive people of their homes for outstanding tax debts of less than $1,000. But absent a new law by the D.C. Council, his plea won’t carry much weight: The Office of the Chief Financial Officer, which oversees the tax sales, has no intention of stopping the practice.
“It’s up to the mayor and the Council to draft and pass legislation,” says OCFO spokesman David Umansky. “Whatever they pass—-and we’re working with them on it—-we will follow the law, as we’ve done consistently.”
Umansky says the Post stories neglected to mention a key fact: The most egregious cases, in which people lose their homes over small tax bills, haven’t taken place since 2007, when a new policy dictated that tax sales could not take place for debts under $1,000.
“All of the instances cited by the Post happened in the year 2007 or earlier, and that they could not happen today, because of changes made in the system by the Office of Tax and Revenue,” Umansky says. “The Post story is talking about things that happened six, seven, eight years ago.”
D.C.’s chief financial officer (currently Natwar Gandhi, who intends to retire soon) is appointed by the mayor but operates independently of the mayor’s office. “The mayor has his duties, and the CFO has its duties,” says Umansky. Absent a new law to change the process for tax lien sales, Umansky says his office will continue to conduct them as it has.
Photo of Natwar Gandhi by Darrow Montgomery