Viewpoint: Senior residential property tax


Fifty years later, those who made the District‘s renaissance possible are now paying for their commitment to Washington.

The rapid decline of so many of the District’s communities started with the four days of riots in April 1968 following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By the mid-1970s, burnt-out and abandoned parts of the city, like 14th Street NW and H Street NE, were decaying eyesores. In other parts of the city, real estate prices were stagnant or in decline. At one point, the District government was giving away abandoned houses for a dollar if the buyer would homestead, but there were few takers. Because of the damage and the ensuing crime, Washington was just not considered by most people in the region as a viable or safe place to buy a home – except for some who saw that D.C. could become the great capital city that it is now.

Some people bought, often against advice from family and friends who lived in other parts of the country and had heard only the worst about D.C. Those who became homeowners, together with those who stayed, created the foundation for the urban renaissance that Washington is now enjoying.

The path up from rock bottom was slow until Anthony Williams was elected mayor in 2000. Shortly thereafter D.C. got its bond rating back.

The city council is sensitive to the issue of high property taxes.  The city now has several programs to help make taxes more affordable.  There are several new ideas in a recent bill from the council.

But let’s look at just the seniors, the taxes they pay and an idea for a simple program to help people on fixed incomes.  

Consider this three-point proposal:

  • When seniors reaches full retirement age there is a freeze of their real property taxes for the owner-occupants of the home.
  • These senior owner-occupants would receive a longevity deduction that would reduce the real property taxes by one percent for every year that they had previously paid D.C. property taxes. As an example, a 55-year-old person who purchases his residential home in September 2018 would be eligible at age 67 (full retirement age) for an incentive reduction of 12 percent.
  • For every year thereafter the senior stays in his home, an additional one percent reduction would act as a declining tax, reflective of fixed incomes in a person’s retirement.

The reason is neighborhood stability. We’ve seen the evidence. Freezing taxes helps balance the fixed incomes of pensions and Social Security. The “one more percent” feature helps keep up with the true cost of living and realistically enables seniors to age in place.

For the real estate market, this becomes a bankable carrot for buyers. Reduced property taxes during retirement are an inducement to come sooner and stay in D.C. during a person’s higher income-earning years.

For the District government, this would provide a clearer picture of future assets for the city, enabling D.C. to plan better and know what to expect from the senior segment of the population.

Now is the time for the city council to start to deliver realistically for D.C.’s senior residential taxpayers!