Loose Lips

Council Gives Initial Approval to Eliminating Property Taxes for Some Seniors

The D.C. Council gave unanimous preliminary approval today to a bill from At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds that would eliminate property taxes for some District seniors, while holding off on another bill from Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans that would cap property tax increases for all residents.

Evans requested a delay in the first vote on his bill, which would have lowered the cap in property tax increases from 10 percent to 5 percent. The bill faced opposition at the Council breakfast before today's meeting, with councilmembers asking why they should act on it before receiving the findings of the Anthony Williams-led D.C. Tax Revision Commission.

Bonds' bill, which would eliminate property taxes for District residents who make less than $60,000 and have owned property in the city for at least 15 years, proved more successful, even earning the votes of councilmembers who say it needs changes before a final vote.

"I do think that there are serious issues about this bill," Mary Cheh said, before going along with the rest of the Council and voting for it.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also voted for the bill, while saying he wants to explore how the bill could also help renters."If they're renting, they're paying real property tax," Mendelson said.

Mendelson's complaints about the bill lead Evans to accuse him of reading straight from a letter from the left-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute opposing Bonds' tax break. "Oh, how funny!" Evans said.

Indeed, D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Ed Lazere director does oppose the bill. "If you're 74, you get nothing," Lazere says. "If you're 75, you have your taxes entirely limited."

An anonymous Gray administration official told the Washington Post that Gray would oppose both property tax bills, but Gray's letter to councilmembers ahead of the meeting only mentioned opposition to Evans'. Mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro says Gray doesn't have a position on Bonds' bill.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • DC Guy

    Bad bill, totally pandering. There are better ways to address the issue without literally bankrupting anyone or the city.

  • Drez

    ^ Yup.

  • JC

    Write your Councilmember. I will tomorrow when I write all that's wrong with it.

    1-It's inefficient to encourage seniors to stay in the city. When faced with the choice of either moving to another district in retirement (closer to kids?) and paying property taxes every year or staying in the city and avoiding property tax for life clearly seniors will be encouraged to stay. This is inefficient for our infrastructure.

    The unique nature of DC's political boundaries means this bill favors retirees to stay in the core city and pushes the new, working-age citizens to live in the suburbs in states. No one gets to live where they want.

    2-DC already halted sales of tax liens on seniors. No senior should be forced to sell their home or kicked out over property taxes. Property owners are seeing their property taxes increase because their home value is increasing. I get they may not have many liquid assets.
    Cap interest on property tax debts at the CPI-U for seniors. There is no need for it to be higher if you aren't trying to attract investors to the tax auction, but you need to have some incentive for seniors to pay on time. Let the debt accrue and at death the city gets paid out from the equity in the estate sale.

    3-This bill will only have the effect of boosting the windfall the heirs receive on the property ($5k less in property taxes is $5k back in your pocket). This is targeted wealth growth for "long-time residents" at the expense of gentrifiers. Imagine the outrage if Mcclean did this to make owning there more expensive for newcomers.

    4-DC already cuts your property tax bill in half if you are over 65 and earn under $125k/year. This is not low or even middle income at 65 with no need to save for retirement, a paid off house and little to no expenses for your kids. Cut it to $60k/year.

    I get the elderly are vulnerable and need to be protected. This is not the way to do it.

  • Arlingtron

    JC has good points. The big problem was that absurd lax lien auction that made a simple tax bill grow exponentially. Another difficulty is having your tax bill go up when you are on a fixed income. A better proposal would have had caps on bill growth for certain owners and not just simply eliminating the tax. As JC suggested perhaps the waived portion could be paid back from the estate.

  • SEis4ME

    Funny how this bill is characterized as "pandering" but when some other bills passes that appeases another constituency, it's all in a days work and no one considers it pandering.

    There are two common factors to which the "panderCrowd" won't admit....

    Bonds (old guard DC)
    Seniors (many of those w/in her base)

    Both present problems for the ABY'S of DC

  • Pingback: Big tax cut for D.C. seniors

  • Barrie Daneker

    I disagree with all you Nah-Sayers! these are the oldest of our residents who have limited incomes and in some cases decreasing income as some pensions have stopped cost of living increases. They are facing increases in medical costs not cover by insurance and tax bills that are increasing 3x the rates of CPI. Further it doesn't stop a senior from downsizing at all and still gives them a tax break so some of these theories are false!

  • clarifierofthings

    "Imagine the outrage if Mcclean did this to make owning there more expensive for newcomers."

    The first to be outraged would be the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who would probably wonder when and how Mclean, which is not an independent locality (just a neighborhood in FFX County albeit one with a powerful citizens association) got to set rules on property taxes.

  • cminus

    Bonds' proposal is "something", in the sense of:

    1. We have a problem! We must do something!
    2. This is something!
    3. We must do this!

    There's a real problem with house-rich but cash-poor seniors being priced out of their house, and Bonds' proposal would help address this -- but in doing so, it would generate all kinds of new problems instead. A much better idea would be to allow low-income seniors to defer property taxes on a primary residence until the property changes hands.

    Evans's proposal, on the other hand, was even worse. So we can at least be grateful the Council wasn't willing to sink quite that far.

  • Corky

    This is a good bill that does actually does something to support the people who have supported this city for decades. DC seems to have no problem wasting millions on trolley cars that will block the bus lanes on H Street, to feed the homeless who come here from all over or to help newcomers open bars, but God forbid the city spend a dime on the people who have been paying taxes here for years!

  • er uh

    There are bus lanes on H Street? Or do you mean the general travel lanes?

    Also are most homeless in DC really from elsewhere?

    But yeah, subsidising bars is a dumb way to revitalize neighborhoods. I did not know such subsidies were only available to newcomers though.

  • JC


    I'd suggest you read up on the effects of California's Prop 13 on individual mobility and housing prices in California's core areas and on other taxes.

    Result: cutting taxes for some long-time homeowners made the entire community less mobile, less likely to sell and other taxes (sales and income) went up to adjust for the lost revenue. It directly contributed to the suburban sprawl that is LA.


    I agree the streetcar is a failed project and an inefficient use of revenue. Metro is cutting bus service to many underserved areas due to costs and we're thinking of creating a more costly alternative? Ridiculous, but poor spending in one area does not necessitate poorly constructed changes in the revenue stream either.

  • Tiffany

    As a 4th generation Washingtonian, I applaud Bonds for sending the signal that our government supports our senior population. especially, since they are faced daily with offers to sell their houses and move away from their birthplace. Unlike people my age who will live anywhere and work at several jobs throughout a lifetime,that generation is the opposite. 1 job, 1 spouse, 1 home.

    People like my grandmother who worked her entire life but retired awhile ago and lives on a modest pension will benefit greatly from this. She may now be able to enjoy the new restaurants and businesses with this extra money, so yes it will get circulated into the local economy.

    I think 5 million dollars a year out of 14 billion is a minimal amount to spend on these long time residents.

    JC- your argument does not fly we are not California. We are a booming metropolis with the highest incomes in the nation and a strong robust housing market.

    DC spends wayyy to much to attrack new residents ( who we will spend tons of money on when they have children) and its time to spend a little to keep the ones who stood through thick and thin.

  • Mark Near RFK

    I am very upset to read ageist comments like JC's that suggest that DC cannot be seen as a viable resident for senior citizens in their retirement. People of all ages and income levels contribute to a community. Furthermore, he shows no evidence that the bill "favors retirees to stay in the core city and pushes the new, working-age citizens to live in the suburbs in states." I lived 4 blocks from PG County (far from the core) for 26 years among an unusually high percentage of retirees. And ZIP Codes like 20016 that border another boundary are not exactly where newcomers to city start out. In fact, I know many newcomers who head right to Columbia Heights, about as core as you can get. As a less desirable option, I could agree with Barrie's proposal to defer tax payments until senior residents or their heirs sell the property.

  • Really?

    After reading the negative comments the first thing that came to mind was the David Chappelle’s skit between Eddie Murphy and Rick James. Rick said phunk your coach. That’s basically what I hear JC et al are saying

    1) If anyone can make it to 75 that’s a blessing. Especially a black women and/or man considering that they are disproportionally effected by major health issues.

    2) If we going to play the “political boundaries game” where was your outrage when ole Jack-in-the box annex Shaw to fit his core constituents? Or ask Jack about his former gig as a lawyer for Patton Boggs where he help shepherd a few bills through the DC council.

    Seniors should be able to live in the core and where ever they want. What are we going to put a specific demographic mortgage qualifier now on who gets to live where in the city. Look the restaurant and other politically savvy constituents push and receive items on their agenda. But, not ya’ll ole folks. Nope ya’ll can’t all bunch up and ask for things that are important to you cause ya’ll are inefficient for the infrastructure ya’ll help build.

    3) Ya’ll don’t deserve any generational wealth. Yet another hurdle for those who have worked hard all their lives and managed to withstand holding down a job, paying bills on time, drugs, coordinate orange hats patrols, riots, red lining etc. to jump.

    We give corporate welfare to failing businesses like living social (did they ever meet that hiring goal of dc residents), the businesses on H street got that grant to shuttle drunks during construction (did we ever find out how the money was spent), and the failing street car that makes a sharp U turn before it hits the hood and DC United can beg (and probably get) “assistance” when the team can’t even fill RFK. But not ya’ll old folks.

    4) So, I followed on the Cali reference. “The law caps property taxes at about 1% of a home’s value [at time of purchase] and forbids major tax increases unless a home is sold or rebuilt, though it permits taxes to go down if a home’s value drops.” So, this means it’s cap for everyone. In the bill proposed by Bonds it would benefit 75 yr olds making $60k or less. I don’t see how these are the same.

    It hurts to read these condescending comments disguised with fake empathy. As some commenters have stated before this city should include all and if we can help what 4K seniors live out there days where they have given blood sweat and tears to help keep a city a float…then why not?