“When we bought our dream house in the Central District in 1956, the property tax was included in the mortgage payments. Thirty years later, we paid off the mortgage. Following our retirement, we continued paying the property tax. We are currently in our ‘golden’ years but are now paying more for property taxes than we did for our mortgage payments! Some of our friends have moved further south to either Renton or Federal Way or lost their homes because they couldn’t pay the increased property taxes. It is our hope and prayer this won’t happen to us.”
That’s the story of a 90-year-old resident of Seattle’s Central District. Many share the experience—achieving “the American dream” of home ownership only to feel pushed out of Seattle by rising housing values and higher taxes.
Last March, Mayor’s Council on African American Elders (MCAAE) members identified four priority advocacy areas:
- Development of extremely low-income housing in Seattle’s Central District (CD).
- Development of preference policies for neighborhoods impacted by gentrification.
- Property tax relief for older homeowners in Seattle and King County.
- Increased investments and improved service delivery for older African Americans in south Seattle and King County.
Since that time, the MCAAE has taken time to learn more about each issue and its impact on older people, especially older African Americans. In November 2018, we sent a report to Mayor Jenny Durkan that includes background information on each priority area and recommended strategies for addressing each issue. The report is available on the MCAAE website.
Property Tax Exemption Program
Since the Washington State Legislature is currently in session, I want to address property tax relief for older homeowners in Seattle and King County.
The King County Assessor’s Office administers Washington State’s Property Tax Exemption Program for qualified homeowners in Seattle-King County. The program is underutilized, especially in high cost areas of Seattle and King County. Many are unaware of the program or, if they know, find the application is complicated and difficult to complete.
Others are misinformed, believing that the Exemption Program will result in a lien against their property. This is true of the State Property Tax Deferral Program but not the Exemption Program. There are also residents who don’t qualify because their annual household income exceeds $40,000, even though it costs more than that to live comfortably in Seattle.
AARP Washington, the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, and other members of the Washington State Senior Lobby have looked at ways that the State can help more people take advantage of property tax relief. This requires action by our elected representatives in Olympia—House, Senate, and Governor. Here’s what the MCAAE would like to see them do:
- Increase the income qualification threshold and match it to each county’s cost of living.
- Simplify the application process.
- Increase outreach activities about the program to older homeowners, especially in high cost areas, including the Central District.
The MCAAE would also like state and local governments to look for ways to help older people who are low-income renters, including mechanisms for effective rent control.
For more information about the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders, e-mail ADS planner Karen.Winston@seattle.gov or visit www.seattle.gov/MCAAE. To get involved in lobbying efforts in Olympia, visit www.waseniorlobby.org. At any time, if you would like to tell your state legislators what you think about an issue, you can call the Legislative Hotline at (toll-free) 1-800-562-6000. See additional options provided by the Legislative Information Center.
Contributor Brenda Charles-Edwards chairs the Mayor’s Council on African American Elders. Brenda is the founder and CEO of Black Orchid Notary in Seattle. She hosts a weekly internet radio show called Seniors Matter!
Three Tips for Property Tax Exemption Applicants
- If you use a tax preparation service—an accountant or bookkeeper or free tax help offered by United Way of King County and AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program—ask them to help you complete the Property Tax Exemption Program application at the same time.
- Attach up to three years of tax returns (e.g., 2016, 2017, and 2018) if you believe you may have been eligible those years. It’s possible to receive retroactive tax exemptions.
- Remember, the Property Tax Exemption Program doesn’t exempt you from paying any taxes, but the savings are significant once you’re on the program—often $1,000 or more, every year that you’re on the program.