By Jon Coupal and Sharon Quirk-Silva | Prior to the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, it was not uncommon for seniors on fixed incomes who had already paid off their mortgages to nonetheless lose their homes because they couldn’t afford to pay their property taxes.
While Proposition 13 continues to protect millions of older Californians by providing reasonable and predictable property tax liability, for low-income seniors it may not be enough.
Voter approved local bonds and parcel taxes that are added to property tax bills above and beyond Proposition 13’s one percent cap have typically added hundreds of dollars a year to individual property tax bills across the state.
One of the state programs meant to help seniors over age 65, the blind, and the disabled stay in their homes is the Property Tax Postponement program or PTP.
The concept behind the Tax Postponement program is simple. A lien is placed against the home of an eligible individual and all property taxes are deferred.
Later, when the homeowner moves, the taxes are paid out of the sale of the home plus simple interest.
The program worked perfectly for 40 years. Beyond paying for itself, 6,000 homeowners from across California benefit from the Property Tax Postponement program.
The large majority have been in the program for decades, and hundreds are over 90 years old. Fortunately, after the Property Tax Postponement program was suspended in 2009 due to budget cuts, it was reinstituted in 2016.
But even though the program was resurrected, very few seniors are eligible for the program.
In order to help more low-income seniors, Assembly Bill 133, introduced by Asm. Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, was proposed to increase the income threshold from $35,500 to $45,000.
This figure would then be adjusted annually by an inflation factor. AB133 also lowers the interest rate from seven percent to five percent, meaning government doesn’t get a windfall when the property is finally sold.
These changes are important because every penny counts for low-income seniors. AB133 provides peace of mind for homeowners worried about a large property tax bill.
It is little wonder then that the offices of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (HJTA) receive multiple calls every week regarding the Property Tax Postponement program and how seniors can sign up for it.
HJTA strongly supports Assembly Bill 133, which was also jointly authored by Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno.
The bill cleared the Legislature unanimously with no “no” votes and is now on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk awaiting his signature or veto.
While we understand that there are costs to the Property Tax Postponement program as the program gets back up and running, it is important to remember its long-term history.
When it was suspended in 2009, the Property Tax Postponement program fund actually retained a small surplus due to the simple interest payments.
In addition, any minor costs from the program would be more than offset if seniors were forced from their homes due to foreclosure and had to rely on government assistance.
The resulting increase in state services for thousands of seniors would be more costly to the taxpaying public.
We encourage Gov. Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 133 into law.
Jon Coupal is the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva represents Assembly District 65.