Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Tax Relief Programs Help Keep Aging Residents in F.C. City

By Jody Acosta

When I first moved here in 1993, I told all my friends that Falls Church City was the center of the universe. They would laugh, but then I’d explain; we have everything — we’re a small town in the middle of a big city, which is one of the world’s great power centers. We’re inside the beltway, bounded by Route 66 and Route 50, we’re sandwiched between two of Virginia’s largest counties, Fairfax and Arlington. Yet we are an independent city with control over our own destiny. We have a world class school system, our own police force and court system. We’re seven miles from downtown DC. Falls Church City is smack in the middle of everything; we live in a very unique place.

There is a price however, to living in such a unique place. We have one of the highest incomes per capita of any locality in the United States. We also have some of the highest home prices in a region well known for its high real estate prices. Real estate assessments have grown steadily during my family’s time here. Our homes held their values better than any surrounding jurisdiction during the financial/mortgage crisis of 2008/09.

During the current global pandemic, our real estate values have actually increased by 2.7 percent overall this year.

When our citizens are ready to sell their home, they are thankful for our rock solid real estate values. It means they can reap the benefits of those steadily increasing property values by obtaining a premium price when they sell. The real estate values remain strong due to a number of factors, such as maintaining excellent City services and an excellent school system, which is why many residents move here. The higher tax bill is a trade-off and most people believe that what they are getting for their tax dollar is worth it. Housing in Falls Church City is always in high demand and homeowners recoup their investment when they sell their home. But what happens to the homeowners who don’t sell their home and stay here through retirement and afterwards?

As the elected Treasurer in Falls Church, my office administers the City’s Tax Relief Program for the Elderly and Disabled and we work closely with the applicants. We see long-time residents who have raised families here and contributed to their community over many years. They want to continue to live here and “age in place,” but some senior or disabled citizens find themselves on fixed incomes and struggling to pay their tax bills. When the City Council asked for a review of the tax relief ordinance in 2019, we had an opportunity to revamp the program and offer a rewrite of the ordinance.

I headed a review committee that included Housing & Human Services Director, Nancy Vincent, Vice Mayor and City Council member, Marybeth Connelly, citizen member Tina Earman, Human Services Advisory board member, Alisa Macht, and my Chief Deputy, Niki Wisemiller. After months of meetings, research, surveys and number crunching, we presented our findings to City Council. The Council voted unanimously to increase the scope of the program, adding $100,000 in program benefits. The new program went into effect beginning with the FY2020 tax year.

The hallmarks of the new program are an increase in the maximum benefit from $4,000/year to 100 percent relief of their tax bill for those in the lowest income bracket, and a reduction in the interest rate on deferred taxes to zero percent, which encourages more seniors to take advantage of deferral. Deferred taxes will eventually be returned to the City coffers when the program participant moves, leaves the program and/or the home is sold. The investment in the tax relief program of an additional $100,000 annually helps keep seniors in their homes longer, and contributes to population diversity and the maintenance of affordable housing stock. That is a great return on investment!

We are now in the second full year since the tax relief program changes were put in place. We have seen an increase of 10 percent in applications for tax relief and approximately 15 percent for deferred taxes. Several of our program participants have told us that the increase to 100 percent relief allowed them to stay in their homes when they would otherwise have been forced to sell and move out of the City.

I am honored to work for and live in a City that invests so much in helping the citizens who need it the most. If you are a disabled or senior homeowner who might be eligible for tax relief, please call the Treasurer’s Office at 703-248-5046 (711 TTY). The deadline for applications this year is April 15. Let us all continue together to enjoy the benefits of living in the center of the universe, otherwise known as Falls Church City.

For more information, visit this link.