Proposed real estate tax changes could keep older Arlingtonians in their homes

Residents 65 and up may be able to better afford their Arlington homes despite rising costs.

© Andy Dean, Adobe Stock

According to the 2018 Arlington snapshot, as of January the county’s median household income was $110,388 and there were 21,900 Arlington residents over the age of 65. Coupled with the fact that, as revealed in a recent report by the Northern Virginia Housing Alliance, over 14,500 affordable housing units were lost in Arlington County due to increasing rent costs and only 2,445 units are left, Arlington officials have proposed changes to the county’s real estate tax relief program in the hopes of keeping older and/or disabled Arlingtonians in their homes via an exemption or a deferral.

Currently, the program is open to homeowners age 65 or older and for people with disabilities. Additionally, applicants’ household income cannot exceed $99,472 and household assets (not including the actual home) cannot exceed $340,000.  

However, with the proposed changes the asset level would increase to $400,000 to account for rising property values and the county would be allowed to adjust that amount that amount annually based on changing median income levels and property values.  

“Essentially what we’re trying to do is make the program more effective in achieving its goals,” says County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “So, not a sweeping change in terms of the major purposes of the program, but it is tightening and changing the qualifications to address what we see as evolving circumstances or what we’ve learned from program participants.” 

The proposed changes will also allow qualifying homeowners to apply for various exclusions to their income taxes based on a variety of factors.  

“To give you just one example, amendments will now include income exclusion,” Cristol says. “If a property owner or their spouse has disability income or if they are spending a certain amount of money on medical expenses not covered by insurance, they’ll now have the ability to deduct that from the otherwise program tax.” 

These new changes come after the county utilized a working group to study the program. After a review of the program, the group concluded that the current state of the program does little to help older homeowners keep up with rising property taxes.  

“That group included program participants and representatives of our commission on aging or commission on disabilities and other stakeholders throughout the community,” Cristol says. “They did really great work getting pretty deep into the weeds but also doing a lot of community engagement of having folks weigh in.” 

The board hopes that these changes, which will be discussed at a public hearing on July 14, will allow longtime community members to stay, regardless of how the housing market changes.  

“We want folks who have been able to live in their homes for a long time and who find that it still meets their needs physically, of course, to be able to stay in the communities that they’ve helped shape,” Cristol says. 

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