Find all of our Election 2020 coverage and other candidate interviews here. More interviews will be added as the election draws closer. Click here to read our conversation with Wittenberg’s opponent, Joe Kent.
Rep. Robert Wittenberg discusses foreclosures, Oakland County’s financial health and racial discrimination in housing
Democratic State Rep. Robert Wittenberg is running against Republican Joe Kent for the seat of Oakland County Treasurer to replace Andy Meisner. The treasurer oversees county funds and revenues, as well as administrative duties such as tax foreclosures.
Wittenberg, who is Jewish, lives with his family in Huntington Woods and has represented Michigan’s 27th District, which includes Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Berkley, Pleasant Ridge and Ferndale, since 2015. He is term-limited.
Below are highlights from the JN’s Zoom interview with Wittenberg (edited for length and clarity).
I’ve introduced legislation to give more discretion to county treasurers when it comes to the foreclosure process, based on a de minimis amount — small-dollar amounts. So, to be able to not foreclose on someone for a small-dollar amount, as well as forgiveness for people specifically dealing with COVID-19.
I want to be proactive to try to prevent foreclosures and educate people on the resources that are available to them, whether it be federal grants [or] state grants through MSHDA [Michigan State Housing Development Authority].
We want to make sure that foreclosure is the last resort. Because it’s bad for families. It’s bad for communities. But occasionally you have investors, maybe they bought something, and they think it’s going to go up in value and then they never pay their taxes. So, there are instances where, absolutely, we want to hold people accountable, where a foreclosure can happen.
But when it comes to people who are in good faith trying to make their payments, who have gone through financial hardship, we don’t want people to be kicked out of their homes.
Oakland County’s Financial Health
I think the current financial health is really good in Oakland County. We have a AAA bond rating; we’re one of the wealthier counties in the country. But that doesn’t mean everybody is doing well in Oakland County. That’s something I really want to pay attention to, is making sure that everybody has the opportunity to live and thrive in our communities and people aren’t left behind.
There’s a lag as far as when people are paying their property taxes. So, if they’re losing their job this year, we might not see the impact until next year or even a couple years down the road. We can’t rest on our laurels. We have to be very proactive and preventive to make sure we stay in a good financial position. We can learn from the financial crisis of 2008-09.
Racial Discrimination in Housing
The Black Lives Matter movement has been such an eye-opener for so many people, but this is not a new issue. As Jews, we’ve seen this as well, but there were racial covenants in housing. You’re looking at the history of racism in this country.
We have to do everything we can to really listen to people that are struggling and find out what it is that they need, versus telling them what they should have. Because not every situation is the same.