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City’s efforts to educate seniors about reducing property tax delayed

Tuesday, March 9, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik, Reporting Texas

The city of Austin has been working on finding ways to educate seniors about opportunities to reduce their property tax. The city is also developing a volunteer program that would allow seniors to offset a portion of the tax. But the pandemic and the severe winter weather in mid-February slowed down the effort.

A 2019 City Council resolution asked the city manager to prepare recommendations to explore ways to reach seniors who qualify for the tax exemption. Under the city manager’s directive, the Communications and Public Information Office worked with staffers in the Budget Office, the Innovation Office, the Housing and Planning Department, the Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Public Health, the Law Department, and the Travis Central Appraisal District to prepare a report.

“I think it is important for seniors to live in the community and in their homes as long as they are able,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said. “I also consider it a part of an age-friendly community.”

Austin adopted an age-friendly action plan in 2018 and was the first city in Texas to receive an approval from the World Health Organization that year. The plan, designed to make Austin a livable community for people of all ages, was developed by the city’s Commission on SeniorsAARP, AustinUP, and other nonprofits working in coordination with City Council. 

Rising property values in Austin are forcing many residents and seniors living on a fixed income to move outside the city as their homes become unaffordable.

“The state law allows that people over 65 can file with the appraisal district that you’re 65 or older and then get the senior tax exemptions that are offered by the city,” said Janee Briesemeister, chair of the Commission on Seniors. This includes a $10,000 homestead exemption for school district taxes, in addition to the $25,000 exemption for all homeowners, according to the TCAD website.

However, the staff report found that not all seniors who are residents of Austin have applied for the property tax exemptions, especially in gentrified areas. Clearly more outreach is needed by the city.

The state of Massachusetts, which is mentioned in staffers’ research, has developed a volunteer program that grants seniors a rebate of up to $1,000 in exchange for volunteering, from painting fire hydrants to answering phones to stacking books in the public library. A similar volunteer program is under discussion in Texas.

The city, and our department, is currently handling two emergency response programs due to both the pandemic and the recent winter storm event,” explained Julia Campbell, public information and marketing manager for the Housing and Planning Department.

Previous outreach efforts by TCAD included a press release and a town hall meeting to provide additional information to eligible homeowners, including seniors.

TCAD has information on properties that use the over-65 exemption. It does not have specific data about which homes are eligible but have not yet applied because it does not require property owners to provide proof of their birthdates or ages.

Staffers’ research recommended that the city share TCAD’s messaging, flyers and direct postal mailings, as well as reach out to seniors through Austin Public Health, the Equity Office, and CPIO’s Community Outreach and Engagement team. They also suggested using census data to identify the number of homeowners over 65. How the city will follow through is yet to be seen.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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