The phone call was from a frightened older woman in the Central Valley. “I can’t afford to pay my property taxes and I may lose my home by the end of the year if nothing is done in Sacramento.” While this call was eerily reminiscent of the years just prior to Prop 13’s enactment in 1978, it wasn’t. The call was made this summer.
Back in 1978, many seniors on fixed incomes were experiencing the heartbreak of foreclosure, despite having paid off their mortgages, because they couldn’t afford the property taxes. While Prop 13 has provided amazing property tax relief for all California homeowners, there remains a segment of society for who not even Prop 13’s protections provide sufficient security.
For that reason, a valuable program known as Property Tax Postponement was created.
Historically, property tax postponement was administered by the California State Controller. Those 62 years old and over who make less than $35,000 a year are eligible. Seniors must also have equity totaling 40 percent of the value of the property and there is a requirement for annual reapplication. In this program, seniors are able to defer their property taxes saving them precious retirement dollars for essentials.
The program isn’t for everyone. The state places a lien on the property which is collected, plus interest, when the individual sells the home. At one point 6,000 people, the majority of who were over 70 and had participated in the program for 20 years, were being helped. But in 2009 the program was eliminated and the property tax bills mounted.
For five long years, HJTA – the primary defender of senior homeowners – has been fighting for its return.
Assembly Bill 2231 resurrects this valuable program. Moreover, in a rare display of a bipartisanship, it cleared the legislative process unanimously. It is not often that state politicians are able to provide a helping hand to a vulnerable population in order to keep them independent and in their homes. It is also abundantly clear that, over time and because of the simple interest payments, that the restoration of postponement will actually be a nominal revenue generator for the state.
How about that? Helping homeowners while turning a profit for the state appears to us as the quintessential win-win – a rare occurrence in California’s typically poisonous political atmosphere.
While Governor Brown has many controversial bills on his desk that he must sign or veto, AB 2231 isn’t one of them. This, to use the vernacular, is a “no-brainer.” We fully suspect that Governor Brown will see the minimal impact to the state budget – which actually might be a net plus – in addition to the needed help it provides to seniors of modest means and let his Jesuit training kick in. If he does, this program will, as it has in the past, give peace of mind to many California senior homeowners.
Please, Governor Brown, sign AB 2231.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.