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Property Tax Working Group issues recommendations to help Cincinnati's older homeowners

No consensus on changes to abatement program
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Posted at 2:47 PM, Jul 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-23 14:47:09-04

CINCINNATI — A panel created in 2018 to try to prevent aging homeowners from being priced out of their properties voted on a slate of recommendations Thursday that could soon be forwarded to Cincinnati City Council.

The Property Tax Working Group did not reach agreement on one of the most controversial parts of their mission: potential changes to the city’s residential property tax abatement program.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, who co-chaired the working group, said at the end of the meeting that he hasn’t given up on that goal.

“I understand the heart of this,” he said. “I will do my best to find the consensus around where we have consensus and try to put something forward.”

Christopher Smitherman
Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman

The idea for the Property Tax Working Group was born when Carol Gibbs, the CEO of Mt. Auburn Community Development Corp. and the working group’s co-chair, approached Smitherman to discuss concerns about older homeowners with low or limited incomes. At issue: New development in some Cincinnati neighborhoods is resulting in property tax increases that many long-time homeowners can’t afford.

As the I-Team reported in June, the panel ended up exploring some of the city’s most intractable problems as it worked to address that issue.

RELATED: No more tax breaks for million-dollar homes?

Over the past 18 months, the Property Tax Working Group had 13 meetings, including three to get public feedback, and conducted two surveys that had more than 650 responses. Its work focused on three broad areas: resources for low- and limited-income residents; property tax relief for seniors and people living with special needs; and residential tax abatements.

The recommendations the working group adopted Thursday during a virtual Zoom meeting include:

· Creation of an online portal with programs and resources for homeowners and renters that would be managed by the city’s Office of Performance and Data Analytics.

· Advocate for the creation of a housing court with a dedicated support staff to help connect residents with resources.

· Create a Chief Advocacy Officer position to lead housing efforts for the city.

· Have a social worker accompany building inspectors in areas with high development activity to provide residents with information and resources about how to get help to make repairs.

· Create a lending program for contractors, specifically women- and minority-owned contractors, who work with homeowners to help them stay in their homes.

· Lobby the state to make changes to benefit home retention for people with low- or limited incomes, disabilities and seniors.

· Age and income requirements to qualify for property tax discounts and deferrals.

· Measures to ensure properties that get tax discounts and relief aren’t used to generate income as short-term rentals.

· Streamlined approvals for building permits related to accessibility.

The working group considered recommendations that would change Cincinnati’s residential property tax abatement program in terms of the price range of properties that qualify and how long tax abatements would last. But the group could not reach agreement.

The panel did approve a recommendation that Gibbs was especially passionate about: to make residential buildings with four units or fewer eligible for residential tax abatements. To qualify, the owner of the building would have to live in one of the units, along with other stipulations.

Smitherman said he expects to introduce the working group’s recommendations to Cincinnati City Council in August. Mayor John Cranley will decide which council committees consider the recommendations, he said.

Smitherman said he hopes city council will vote on the recommendations sometime in September.

Video of the entire virtual meeting will be available online on the city of Cincinnati’s City Planning YouTube channel.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.