Austin considers raising homestead exemptions

This northwest Austin neighborhood is using Nextdoor.com. (Kevin Schwaller)
FILE - Northwest Austin neighborhood (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City council is set to vote on homestead exemptions in a special meeting called Wednesday.

This will be council’s last hurrah before going on break for the month of July. The deadline is July 1 for the council to decide whether to raise the current homestead exemption from 6 percent to 8 percent.

Travis County, Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth have already adopted the maximum exemption allowed with 20 percent of appraised value. Mayor Steve Adler and several council members promised to work towards a homestead exemption in 2014 while campaigning.

On first reading last Thursday, the council voted 6-5 to raise the exemption another two percent. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and council members Pio Renteria, Greg Casar, Delia Garza and Ora Houston voted against the proposal. The city’s general fund is estimated to take a $3.8 million hit if the homestead exemption increase passes Wednesday.

“In the end, you know, the percentage homestead exemption really benefits those with the highest cost housing,” Tovo told KXAN. “We want to be able to really provide the best services to all Austinites, whether they rent property or are property owners.”

City staff projects the owner of a $250,000 home would save $22.95 a year on his or her tax bill.

Emily Chenevert, Director of Operations at the Austin Board of Realtors, says the board is looking for continued commitment to several council members’ goal of reaching a 20 percent homestead exemption within four years. This marks year two.

“It was a benchmark established during the election cycle, frankly many of today’s city officials made commitments towards this goal,” Chenevert said.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair is one of those pushing for a homestead exemption increase.

“The city of Austin is really behind,” Troxclair said, pointing to the county and major surrounding cities. “There’s so many people in Austin who are struggling to afford to live in their homes and this is, again, one readily available tool that we need to use.”

There are other homestead exemptions on your property tax bill. Austin Independent School District shaves off a state-mandated $25,000. Austin Community College and Healthcare district exemptions also reduce what you owe. Seniors, veterans and disabled homeowners get larger exemptions.

In a statement, Council Member Pio Renteria said, “Increasing our current homestead tax exemption beyond six percent could have a significant impact on city services that are critical to Austin families. There are many amazing programs for AISD students, low income Austinites, and other vulnerable communities that we might not be able to fully fund if we pass this exemption. I voted against this increase because there are better and more equitable ways to address our affordability issues.”

“It does take away from the funds we have available for programs and services, so it’s a very serious consideration,” Tovo said.

It’s a consideration council will pick back up Wednesday at 1 p.m. at City Hall

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