DADE CITY — Low-income seniors who can’t afford to pay their property taxes could get up to $5,000 in assistance this year as the county’s Community Development Division overhauls its lending policies.
Community Development Director George Romagnoli said the county has $300,000 available in this year’s budget for taxpayer assistance — a program the county used to offer but had to shut down when it ran out of funds.
“We’re very excited about this program,” he said. “We finally have enough money that we can bring it back. Keeping people in their homes is our top priority, and we think we’ll be able to help a lot of people.”
Any homeowner who is 62 or older and earns less than $20,000 a year (or $22,750 for a couple) could be eligible for the program, based on the value of their home. Even those who live in mobile homes can apply. “As long as they own the land,” Romagnoli said. “We won’t pay the tag fees, but we’ll pay the property taxes for the land.”
Tax Collector Mike Fasano said his office gets a deluge of calls from seniors every year around November, when homeowners get their tax bills in the mail.
“We have a lot of elderly residents who have been in their homes for 40 years and their homes are paid off, but they live on very limited fixed incomes,” Fasano said. “The last thing we want is for someone to lose their home because they can’t afford the property taxes. So I’m really glad this program is up and running again.”
Applicants should contact the Community Development office to request an application. Romagnoli said the funding is available for the 2013 taxes - even delinquent taxes - but he stressed that it is a zero-interest loan - not a grant. The loan is deferred, so the county would recoup the funds when the property is sold.
Rebooting the tax payment program is just one of several policy changes Romagnoli outlined for county commissioners during a workshop Tuesday. The Community Development Division is also recommending the county allow state housing funds be used for modest repairs to mobile homes.
“We used to do mobile home repairs, but we had a real lousy experience in the 1990s, so we stopped,” Romagnoli said. “Now we’re smarter what type of mobile homes we’ll do a repair on and what type of repair.”
Community Redevelopment Specialist Michelle Miller said the department gets a lot of requests for wheelchair ramps from mobile home owners, but it hasn’t been able to fullfil them.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she supports the change. “I had a constituent, a 90-year-old woman in a mobile home in Odessa, whose well ran dry,” she said. “I didn’t know how to help her.”
Now she would be eligible for a zero-interest home repair loan of up to $10,000, Miller said.
The final change affects first-time home buyers who receive down payment assistance from the county. For years the county has offered up to $20,000 as a zero-interest loan for qualified buyers and deferred the payments for up to 10 years depending on the buyer’s income. Certain “essential service workers” such as government employees, teachers, healthcare workers and military veterans could get an additional $10,000, provided they met certain income requirements.
Romagnoli said he will ask commissioners to lower down payment assistance to $5,000 and to eliminate the bonus subsidy for essential workers altogether.
“We gave out hundreds of those loans,” Romagnoli said. “Those people are moderate income - they really don’t need that level of assistance to get into a house. We were oversubsidizing them. This way, we’ll be able to help more people.”
For information about the tax payment program, contact the Community Development Division at (727) 834-3445, (813) 996-7341, ext. 3445 or at (352) 521-4274 ext. 3445.