“Many of the homes here, most of which are 100 years old or more, have been restored, and lots of families have moved in, so the area is much more pleasant,” Sobsey said.
Sobsey said this vast improvement in his neighborhood and its restoration could have the potential to drive him and other homeowners like him out of town.
“Our taxes could go way up, which would make it difficult for us to keep affording our homes,” he said. “It’s not out of the question that we’d have to sell.”
The North Carolina General Statutes mandates that counties in North Carolina conduct a countywide at least once every eight years.
Orange County is currently going through its property revaluation.
When the last property tax revaluation in Orange County happened in 2009, property values went up by about 25 percent.
Residents should expect value change notices by mail between December 2016 and February 2017, and the actual property tax bill will be mailed in July or August 2017 after all budgets and tax rates have been established.
Charlie Reece, Durham City Council member, said of all the things Durham is dealing with, the recent revaluation is his biggest concern.
“We are in the process of hiring a new police chief, we’re getting body cameras for our police officers, so we need a new policy for that, we need more economic development and services in at-risk communities,” Reece said. “But of all these issues facing our city, this is the one that is keeping me up at night.”
A change for Orange County
While there still is no way of knowing how much the increase or decrease will be this year, Christopher McLaughlin, a professor of public law and government at UNC, said he thinks there will be an increase, but it will be less than the last revaluation.
“We haven’t seen a huge burst or drop off like we did in some parts of the country, but we did certainly see a flattening of values,” McLaughlin said. “It has stagnated.”
The concern is gentrification, though, which is what McLaughlin said he’s seeing in Durham. He said people are moving into generally lower-income areas, buying houses and increasing the value while neighbors who haven’t are still seeing the value of their homes increase.
“That’s where people can say the tax bill I’m facing is much larger than before because my neighborhood is getting better,” he said. “Great thing if I want to sell it, but if I want to stay here it’ll start getting difficult. The tax rate is increasing, but not my income.”
Reece said numbers suggest that the real estate values increased by 16 percent in Durham, although some neighborhoods have seen higher and some have seen lower.
“Looking at the data, by and large, the wealthier neighborhoods in Durham have not seen a significant evaluation increase,” Reece said. “Middle class, working class and working families have seen significant increase in value that will result in almost certainly increased tax bills at the end of the year.”
He said the challenge Durham faces now as a local government is having absolutely no ability to prove any kind of relief for property owners who have seen a significant increase in value.
“It’s broader than just the impact of the recent evaluation. It’s a broader concern across Durham with people being priced out of the neighborhoods they live in,” Reece said. “This revaluation and the incoming tax bill is just one part of why working class families are finding it hard to raise their kids in Durham.”
Assistance for residents
There is the potential for help when it comes to the increase in property taxes Orange County residents might be facing.
T. Dwane Brinson, Orange County tax administrator, said Orange might be the only county in the state that has come up with a that prequalifies residents for tax assistance programs.
“For us and the community, this revaluation is different,” Brinson said. “We are making a concerted effort to collaborate with the community as we realize input from the community is vital to producing a good product in the end.”
Reece said Durham is encouraging residents to participate in the appeals process and property tax relief programs, but realizes that maybe families still will not qualify for them.
“Ultimately, there are going to be working families who don’t qualify for these programs, who don’t have a valid argument about evaluation and who will be hit hard by these tax bills,” he said.
Orange County has their own homeowners can go through, as well as some other programs that can help.
Reece said counties need to be more creative and think more broadly than just these evaluations when it comes to the impact they have on working families.
“Right now what we need to focus on is making people sure they understand what could be coming in terms of their tax bills and for them to start making a plan,” Reece said.