The Orange County Board of Commissioners has reauthorized the Longtime Homeowners Assistance Program, a 2021 pilot program that provided grants to homeowners for assistance in paying property taxes.
“I’m pleased to see this is continuing,” said Renee Price, Chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. “The immediate concern is how we keep people in their homes. How do we preserve our neighborhoods, especially our historic neighborhoods? We want to keep those neighborhoods together.”
The program started as a way to help lower-income property owners whose properties increased because of the 2020 revaluation that saw values in some areas rise significantly. For FY 2021-22, the board designated $250,000 of ARPA funds, but the program received only 91 successful applications and awarded $16,364 of relief.
The revised program will be based on the homeowners’ income and age and will no longer be restricted to properties that saw a tax increase due to the revaluation. The board again designated $250,000 for the program in FY 22-23 and directed staff to develop a policy that prioritizes applicants based on age, length of time lived in the home and the homeowner’s tax burden (percentage of annual income needed to pay property tax bill) should demand exceed available funds.
The board approved several changes to boost participation, including reducing the requirement to have owned and lived in the home from 10 years to five years. According to data compiled by the Orange County Tax Office and the Orange County Housing Department, this would potentially increase the number of eligible properties by more than double.
The changes included formalizing policies for heir’s properties and those owned by Family Trusts to provide assistance based on the income of the persons who live in the household and not all the heirs or members of the trust.
“The problem we’re trying to solve here is the tax burden,” said Commissioner Sally Greene. “I fully understand and am sympathetic to the fact that this is a systemic problem. We are not the only community dealing with it. I think there is a way to start working on it at the systemic level.”
Greene pointed to a report from the National Fair Housing Alliance that explained how the assessment bias evolved and suggestions on ways to approach making the assessment process more equitable.
“I’m not hopeless that we can’t solve the ultimate problem,” she said.
Commissioner Earl McKee said it was critical to address low participation.
“The first thing we have to do is figure how we get the word out,” he said. “It did not result in nearly the number of applications that I expected.”
One of the staff recommendations adopted by the board is to open the program earlier this year. The program was initially approved Sept. 14 last year, with the board giving final approval at its Oct. 5 meeting.
For 2022, applications will be accepted beginning Aug. 1 and lasting through Dec. 1, and staff at the Tax Department will include a flyer about the program when property tax bills are mailed in August.
Information about the new program, including the revised application, will be available on the Orange County website soon.