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Around 7,000 Richmond Seniors And Disabled Residents Qualify For Tax Relief, But Aren’t Getting It

City Hall
Photo: Craig Carper/VPM

A new analysis of Richmond’s Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled program shows it is severely underutilized.

The program provides property tax breaks to seniors and people with disabilities who meet certain requirements. In April, VPM discovered that Richmond lagged behind some other localities in signing up eligible homeowners. After the VPM story, Public Policy Analyst Benjamin Paul attempted to estimate just how many people were being left out. Paul found that between 6,900 and 7,800 residents qualified for tax relief they aren’t receiving.

“This is quite an important program,” Paul said. “This program focuses on vulnerable populations, and that’s particularly important as people try to age in place and stay in the city that they’ve lived in for a long time.”

Paul’s report found that the program’s roughly 2,500 participants represent only about a quarter of all eligible residents. People who qualify for the program but aren’t enrolled are missing out on an estimated $560 to $1,440 in savings.

The report used individual and household income data from the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. Richmond’s tax relief program is only open to homeowners with a household income under $50,000 per year. 

Another eligibility requirement is that the homeowner must have a net worth less than $200,000. While no individual net worth data for Richmond residents exists, the Federal Reserve estimates that the median net worth for all U.S. families is only $97,000.

“The vast majority of people who qualify for this program because of their income are not likely to have a larger net worth,” Paul said. “I don’t think it would impact the numbers in any meaningful way.”

The Tax Relief for the Elderly and Disabled Program is administered by Richmond’s Finance Department. Director John Wack said his office had not independently reviewed the data in Paul’s report, but a program administrator agreed that it’s core claims appeared accurate.

Jim Nolan, a spokesperson for Mayor Levar Stoney, said in a statement that officials attempt to advertise the program by handing out flyers at city council district meetings and taking out ads in the paper. Stoney included two additional tax relief program administrators in his proposed 2019-2020 budget, including one that would have been focused on outreach. But Richmond City Council removed funding for those positions during budget negotiations, the spokesperson said. 

In his report, Paul also highlighted multiple recommendations for increasing enrollment in the program. They included developing an online eligibility tool that people can use before collecting all of the paperwork necessary for applying, and making program materials available in Spanish and other commonly spoken languages in Richmond.

“If adopting policies that aide vulnerable families is a testament to our city’s values, implementing them well must be a testament to our city’s spirit,” he said. 

You can read Paul’s full report here.


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