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Homestead exemption talks to continue

Thursday, February 12, 2015 by Jo Clifton

When City Council Member Delia Garza proposed an amendment to the resolution seeking information on the impact of a 20 percent homestead exemption, she noted that more than half of Austin residents are renters, and she wants to know how that might affect people in each district. Housing Works Austin has crunched the numbers, and according to its data, 52 percent of the people in Garza’s district are homeowners. However, only 26.4 percent in Council Member Pio Renteria’s District 3 own their own homes. It appears that District 10 has the highest percentage of homeownership, at 57 percent. For the statistics of each district, see Housing Works analysis. Mayor Steve Adler, one of the chief proponents of the exemption, gave his take on the question of whether the rich or the poor would benefit more from such an exemption. He said he had many conversations during the campaign with people of average means. Those people did not care that the wealthy would get more benefit from the exemption, he said. They only cared that they would get some relief from their own tax burden. Adler noted that “70 percent of homeowners in this city own homes that are worth $400,000 or less” and only about 9,000 people own million-dollar homes. During the campaign, he said, there was a lot of discussion about whether a 20 percent exemption would be progressive or regressive. For Adler, there is no question that such an exemption is a progressive tool. “The way that tax policy people measure tax burden is the relative percentage of your income that you have to pay (in taxes). In this city, the bottom 20 percent of income folks pay four times the amount of their income on property taxes as those in the top 1 percent. So, the burden, what people are feeling is much more, it’s a much greater burden for low-income people than high-income people.” We can expect to hear arguments about this throughout the spring and into the summer.

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