It’s the day after winter storm Mateo hurled up to a foot of snow on Metro Detroit. The white stuff continues to fall, but that’s not stopping Michelle Oberholtzer from participating in the 4th annual Paczki Run in Hamtramck.
We met Oberholtzer, 32, at her home in Hamtramck, which has a total area of 2.1 square miles and is surrounded by the city of Detroit. She’s putting on her running gear, including a sweater with a penguin on the front donning a red hat. Oberholtzer opts for a knit beanie in the same hue.
Joining her is her boss, Ted Phillips, who is the executive director of the United Community Housing Coalition (UCHC), a nonprofit advocacy group that helps thousands of people facing tax foreclosure in Detroit stay in their homes. Oberholtzer is the director of the Tax Foreclosure Prevention project within the UCHC. The two trek through the snow to the starting line with a handful of supporters carrying signs that say, ‘Run’ and ‘Michele.’ One banner reads: ‘Michele Oberholtzer for District 4 state representative.’ Indeed, Oberholtzer is running for the Michigan House of Representatives, representing District 4.
“Part of me is really excited about being an elected official and getting to have a role in all these different issues that I care about,” says Oberholtzer.
Oberholtzer appears on the cover of the Jan. 29 issue of Time magazine, which features several first-time female candidates running for offices big and small across the country. If elected, Oberholtzer will advocate for accessibility, affordability and equity in housing, among other issues. According to the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office, as reported by the Detroit Metro Times, about 36,000 Detroit properties that are at least two years behind on their taxes have received foreclosure notices ahead of this year’s tax auction in the fall. No word yet on how many of those properties are occupied. The foreclosure issue recently grabbed the attention of VICE News Tonight on HBO. Oberholtzer makes an appearance on an episode tackling the topic.
So how did Oberholtzer get involved with tax foreclosure in Detroit? It all started several years ago when she got a part-time job as a property surveyor. That’s when she saw the effects of the crisis first-hand from talking with homeowners. That prompted Oberholtzer to start the Tricycle Collective in 2014. It’s a volunteer-powered, women-led, nonprofit that has donated $100,000 in direct contributions to more than 100 low-income families who have faced tax foreclosure.
While her nonprofit work today doesn’t fall in line with her mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan, it’s something Oberholtzer is passionate about. And she’s turning to politics to affect change on a larger scale.