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Calling for changes after report exposes D.C. office's errors

Wednesday - 9/11/2013, 5:40pm  ET

'That really almost looked like conspiracy'

D.C. councilmember Tommy Wells

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WASHINGTON - Bad practices caused hundreds of D.C.'s low income residents to lose their homes, which one council member says looks like a conspiracy.

In response to a Washington Post article that uncovered predatory collection on small debts caused hundreds to lose their homes, Councilmember Tommy Wells -- running for mayor -- is furious.

Learning of the city's office of tax revenue's 20 percent error rate, led Wells to call for a change in leadership and an independent audit. He wants the office's CFO Natwar Gandhi replaced.

"How people could lose their homes because the office of tax revenue applied payments to the wrong properties or wrong accounts. That really almost looks like conspiracy; like were we really trying to run the marginally poor who still own their homes out of the District," Wells tells WTOP.

Wells says he plans to amend legislation in the works to ensure better practice.

The Washington Post (http://wapo.st/13v2OI9 ) reports the district government for decades has placed liens on properties when homeowners did not pay their tax bills. Liens are sold at auction for investors to collect the debts.

But the program has grown into a system where $500 tax bills morph into $5,000 debts. Investors charge homeowners thousands in fees.

Retired Marine Sgt. Bennie Coleman lost his home two years ago over a $134 property tax bill. Another woman lost her home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $45 while she was struggling with Alzheimer's.

Many foreclosures target poor neighborhoods.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press and WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

© 2013 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.