Orange County Commissioners are on track to create an improved property tax relief program that allows more low-income homeowners to stay in their homes, thanks to Justice United leaders joining forces with community leaders from the Marian Cheek Jackson Center and EmPOWERment, Inc. Last year, organizing by the Jackson Center, EmPOWERment, Inc., and connected neighborhood leaders alerted Commissioners in the first place the massive property tax inequities. After the County's first attempt at tax assistance resulted in limited impact, we organized together for an improved program model could deliver 14 times the amount of tax relief of last year's pilot program.
At the May 24 Board of Orange County Commissioners meeting, over 20 leaders from Justice United's Affordable Housing Team, the Jackson Center, the EmPOWERment, Inc. won commitments from the Commissioners to both continue and improve the 2021 pilot property tax relief program, to address the homeowners' actual tax burden.
In contrast, the 2021 pilot program only offered tax relief for the increase from 2020 to 2021 County taxes. As a result, that program distributed only $16,364 across just 91 households -- with the median relief amount of only $97. For the 2022 program, leaders organized for new criteria to ensure low-income homeowners can receive property tax relief for their whole County tax burden -- addressing the longstanding, systemic nature of housing inequity, rather than only one year's tax increase.
At the County Commissioners meeting, community leaders gave powerful testimonies about how skyrocketing property taxes, that disproportionately burden residents of color and low-income residents, have been driving gentrification and displacement for years. They spoke to the incredible legacy of the close-knit and many historically Black communities that could be sustained if the County takes action.
Above, Justice United leader Horace Johnson tells the Commissioners, "I'm just going to ask two questions: Will the board become galvanized to work together to save these historic neighborhoods and homes of local residents -- some of the same people and places that are at the very origins, origins, of the towns' existence -- with tax assistance that is fair and inclusive for all the you deem to be lower income?"
"Or will the Board be remembered for being complicit in furthering and assisting the ongoing eradication and gentrification of those historical neighborhoods and the residents who live in them?"
"We need to fix it and we have an opportunity to do it -- we're looking at a population of people who will be eradicated, and where will they go?"
Watch the discussion and testimonies on the Longtime Homeowners Assistance program for property tax relief here: https://orange-nc.granicus.com/player/clip/1564?meta_id=40463
*You can fast forward to the leaders' testimonies, which begin at 1 hr, 5 min, 23 sec.
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