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Seattle documents renovation programs, tax relief for aging in place

The Seattle Times has recently focused its housing affordability coverage on seniors, looking at renovation and tax relief provisions designed to help older residents stay in their homes

The Seattle area is a hot housing market. According to Zillow, the average home price in the Emerald City is currently $884,828, up 4.3% year over year.

As home values have risen sharply, this has made the conundrum facing the area’s seniors more difficult to navigate: If they need to downsize, they may not be able to move into a home in their price range, much less be able to obtain a mortgage at a rate that can be easily absorbed on a fixed income.

But a nonprofit organization in the Seattle area is seeking to help more seniors renovate their homes to age safely. And a state property tax relief program recently raised its maximum income threshold to allow more Puget Sound-area seniors to qualify.

Rebuilding Together South Sound, based south of Seattle in Tacoma, “offers no-cost repairs to homeowners with low incomes,” according to reporting at the The Seattle Times. “Projects range from small fixes, like installing a grab bar, to significant repairs on porches and roofs.” But cost increases are arriving at the same time the organization is seeing an influx of potential clients, according to program director Rachel Lehr.

The group can only afford to help roughly 150 applicants per year, but it is regularly seeing as many as 250 to 300 applicants in that time frame.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided a boost to the organization’s funding for a time, but that also arrived in concert with a supply chain shortage that saw the cost of materials increase significantly. Lehr told the Times that projects went from an average cost of $3,000 to $4,000 to “probably double that.”

“Overall Seattle-area construction costs have stabilized in the last year, but remain 40% higher than pre-pandemic,” the Times noted.

But the area is also seeing a different problem simultaneously. People with homes that may not be appropriate for aging are not applying for enough relief, giving similar organizations in the region an opposing dynamic to work with.

“It is unclear what’s behind the lagging rate of applications for some home repair programs, but multiple factors could be at play,” the Times reported. “Soaring housing costs have driven many people with lower incomes out of Seattle and into surrounding communities. Nonprofits can struggle to reach people with limited internet use, and older adults are sometimes reluctant to seek help.”

While some of these organizations are struggling to get the word more broadly distributed throughout the Seattle region, there could be more help for a wider swath of the area’s seniors due to a recent revision to a property tax relief program.

“After a recent state law change, a long-standing property tax break program for older homeowners and people with disabilities is now open to people with higher incomes, making more Washingtonians eligible,” the Times reported Monday. “In King County, for example, the change boosted the income limit for the program by 44% this year. Homeowners making up to $84,000 can now qualify.”

There are a “flood” of applicants seeking tax assistance, the Times reported. Cost increases are indiscriminately striking workers and retirees, and are impacting renters and homeowners alike.

“Folks are trying to find whatever way they can to try and keep their costs down,” said Christina Clem, spokesperson for AARP Washington. The local chapter of the influential senior lobbying organization worked to expand the property tax exemption and ”has encouraged tens of thousands of its members to apply,” the Times reported.

Despite being a homeowner in a sought-out region, many are facing affordability challenges related to the additional obligations, Clem told the outlet.

“Even if you have your home paid off, if you can’t afford the property taxes, that’s a problem,” she said.

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