On its hotline for homeowners facing housing loss and foreclosure, the nonprofit Washington Homeownership Resource Center (WHRC) noticed an alarming trend in recent years.
“The calls were specifically around people who were not able to afford their property taxes,” said Denise Rodriguez, the WHRC’s executive director.
The callers were mostly older adults from the greater Seattle area, Rodriguez added.
But homeowners in other parts of the state voice similar concerns, from the retirement hot spot Walla Walla to the Tri-Cities and Spokane.
Skyrocketing property values are an unfortunate downside of Washington’s booming economy. While longtime homeownership in hot real-estate markets can be a windfall, the higher taxes that come with increased property values can torpedo even the most careful budget, especially for those on fixed incomes.
AARP Washington shared the WHRC’s concerns and, together with county assessors and the Washington Association of County Officials, the groups’ advocacy produced a revision to state law that took effect Jan. 1.
Its intent is to make it easier for more people to age in place at home by increasing the property-tax exemption for low- to moderate-income homeowners age 61 and older.
Previously, eligibility was determined by the same income standards across the state. Now, it is determined by each county’s median income.
“If you’re at a $40,000 income level, that goes a lot further in the eastern part of the state than it does in the western part,” said Skagit County Assessor Dave Thomas. “There was a need to find some ways of equalizing eligibility, so the people who need tax relief the most are getting it.”
Homeowners’ annual income determines which of three exemption levels—full, partial or standard—they qualify for.
The new guidelines will allow many more people to become eligible and could save participants hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.
The challenge is getting qualified homeowners across the Evergreen State to apply for it.
“I think some older people feel almost guilty about seeking the property-tax exemption,” observed John Wilson, King County assessor.
“I tell them, ‘This is your right and you shouldn’t feel bashful about exercising it. You’ve spent decades paying your property taxes, to the greater good of the community. Let’s give you a bit of tax relief so you can stay in that home,’” said Wilson.
To qualify for the property-tax exemption this year, applicants must provide proof of age and their 2019 income.
At the WHRC, Rodriguez said working together with the county officials and AARP Washington has connected her organization with more resources to help older homeowners.
“I feel like we’re weaving a tighter safety net as a result of this partnership,” she said.
“It’s just a lot smarter to keep people in their homes if we can,” she noted. “It’s the right thing to do, morally and ethically. It’s also the smart thing to do fiscally, long term, for the state.”
For more information about the property-tax exemption, visit dor.wa.gov or call your local assessor’s office.
Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle.
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This story is provided by AARP Washington. Visit the AARP Washington page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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