Rising property values and living costs are squeezing people here on the Eastside, but not all feel the pinch equally. Our state’s strong economy and the prosperity it brings are the envy of the country, but it’s our responsibility to make sure that prosperity for some doesn’t leave others behind. Too many seniors and veterans who bought their homes in a different era are struggling to keep up with property taxes on home values that reflect the economy of today.
The crunch is being felt across the state. Take Peggi Reese and her husband Jim Reese for example. The couple have been pillars of the Yelm community for a long time. They worked for the school district for 35 years and in 2016 were chosen to be grand marshals of the Christmas parade. When Jim, a Vietnam War veteran, died in late 2018 from the lingering effects of Agent Orange, Peggi was in danger of losing her ability to stay in her home.
People like Peggi have given decades of their lives to their communities, and now that they’re on fixed incomes, they’re struggling to stay where their families, friends, doctors and churches are.
That’s why I sponsored a bill this year (SB 5160) that provides $20 million in property tax relief to help people like Peggi who can least afford an increase — senior citizens, people with disabilities and disabled veterans — stay in their own homes.
The previous senior property tax exemption was only available to households with incomes of $40,000 or less per year, no matter where they lived. We all know that the cost of living and home values are a lot higher in King County than in Spokane.
The new law sets the income limit at 65 percent of the median household income in each county. That means that for King County, the new limit is $58,423 and will rise with incomes. In addition, the law expands eligibility so that more disabled veterans will qualify.
Using a threshold tied to the county median income targets the policy so it assists seniors who need it most while protecting the budgets of small counties that aren’t seeing fast growth.
The benefits of this expansion will go beyond its recipients. Giving people the ability to age in place leads to much better quality of life and health for them, decreasing medical costs and helps keep communities intact. It also prevents homelessness before it starts. One of the most effective tools to end homelessness is keeping people in their current homes.
The law takes effect in 2020 and applications will be available in January. You can find information about eligibility and how to apply on the King County Assessor’s website.
In May, Peggi joined us at the bill signing for the new law. The changes that it makes will allow her to stay in the home that she and her husband Jim shared. In the coming years, it will help thousands more seniors, veterans, and disabled people stay in their homes too.
The Kirkland Senior Council and the city of Kirkland want to help local older adults understand the new senior property tax exemptions and deferments by hosting a community forum with King County tax assessor John Wilson from 2:30-4 p.m on Jan. 10, 2020 at the Peter Kirk Community Center (352 Kirkland Ave). This new law will help many seniors by raising the exemption limit from $40,000 to $58,423. You can pre-register for this free event by calling 425-587-3360.
Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) represents the 45th Legislative District. She is the deputy majority leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus.