At the Central Area Neighborhood District Council meeting on December 14, an important issue was presented: tax relief for seniors. (Note: The District Council is still meeting despite its “axing” by former Mayor Murray. We do not know how the current Mayor feels about these groups.)
With the tremendous rise in real estate prices in this area, there is a subsequent rise in property taxes and seniors (and disabled) live on fixed incomes which make it difficult to keep up with rising taxes and they often face the prospect of having to leave their homes. Seniors may see a rise in health care costs due to aging issues as well, thus adding to the crisis.
King County offers two programs. One is for folks over 61 and/or disabled and provides an exemption or reduction in real estate taxes if one qualifies. One’s income must be under $40,000 including monthly Social Security benefits.
The other program is a deferral of taxes and the income qualification is $45,000. A deferral means that the deferred taxes must be paid when the house is sold and it is often this requirement that discourages participation. Seniors are reluctant to “shortchange” their heirs by having to pay these taxes through the proceeds of the sale. However, in reality, home values have risen so much in the past few years, the taxes are probably a small percentage of the total value.
There are actually about 40,000 older homeowners who would qualify for this program but only 15,000 take advantage of it. Our legislative representative, Rebecca Saldana, is interested in taking on this project and trying to get the annual income figures raised to accommodate more of the elderly and disabled. There is more than likely an educational component that should go with this. There is a social worker assigned to the Central Area Senior Center who could help explain this program to interested parties and answer questions.
It is important to keep seniors in their own homes as long as possible as institutional care is costly to both the individual and the state, which bears much of the cost through Medicaid. Our state has ranked second in keeping these costs low by providing services like these that help to keep seniors in the homes.
We should support this effort by our representative.