The Orange County Board of County Commissioners launched its Longtime Homeowner Assistance program in early October to help retain the established community and combat gentrification.
The program will provide property tax bill assistance to residents who have lived in their homes for at least 10 years, according to a press release from Orange County.
“This issue is primarily in historically Black neighborhoods,” Carrboro Town Council member Susan Romaine said. “Residents have lived in their homes for many, many years. They're very, very rooted in the community, and yet they just simply cannot afford to keep up with the rise in property taxes year after year.”
The program is supported by $250,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated to assist households affected by the 2021 property tax revaluation.
Property taxes are reassessed every four years in Orange County, Erika Brandt, the county's housing and community development manager, said.
“High property taxes can create a real cost burden for homeowners who either have low or fixed income, and that cost burden can really threaten their housing stability,” Brandt said. “If their taxes get to the point that they're spending the majority of their income to pay those taxes, they don't have a lot left for maintenance of the home or for other kinds of basic goods that they might need.”
According to the county's press release, eligible candidates for the Longtime Homeowner Assistance program must have experienced a rise in their property tax value with the 2021 tax revaluation and earn no more than 80 percent of the median income for the area. The income limit is dependent on family size.
“To have a sense of that, for a family of four, that would be $69,000," Romaine said. "They have to earn that amount or less in order to qualify.”
Some areas have been affected by the property tax revaluation more than others. Chapel Hill Town Council member Tai Huynh said the Northside neighborhood, historically the largest Black community in Chapel Hill, experienced especially high property tax increases in the revaluation.
“It is a systemic issue,” Huynh said. “This program is a Band-Aid solution that will help families right now, but we need to continue building a solution that addresses the root inequity of how properties are evaluated.”
Romaine also said the increased property taxes have affected historically Black neighborhoods the most.
“It became clear that some of the properties in this Northside neighborhood were drastically overvalued compared to some of the investor rentals in nearby, mostly white neighborhoods,” Romaine said.
Brandt said Orange County's Department of Housing and Community Development has partnered with other organizations to get the word out about the program.
“We're working with other county offices, like the Department on Aging, as well as community partners like the Marian Cheek Jackson Center,” Brandt said. “Partners connect the folks that they work with to the program and provide information. We’ve had a good response.”
Brandt said she hopes the Longtime Homeowner Assistance program will provide some stability to the community.
“We're really hoping that this program will help stabilize communities, help stabilize neighborhoods that have a lot of longtime homeowners that might be facing pressures from gentrification,” she said.
According to the press release, applications for the program are due at 5 p.m. on Dec. 15. Applications can be completed online, through a paper application available at the Orange County Housing and Community Development offices or by calling the Orange County Housing helpline at (919) 245-2655.
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