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We Applaud the City Council for Recognizing and Addressing an Important Policy Issue

Too often, as has been expressed in one fashion or another in this space, individual members of our city council and the council collectively, fixate on the perceived need –- “in the public interest” –- to enact or amend laws that achieve nothing more than adding new, or enhancing existing, rules presumably designed to protect us hapless citizens from doing harm to ourselves.

Too often legislation is predicated on implementing what we cannot be permitted to do rather than focusing on making government more responsive to the actual needs of the city’s residents.

On occasion, however, there are times when we can celebrate the opposite tendency, and right now, early 2014, is such an occasion.

We refer to the “Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Relief Act of 2013” that was introduced in the City Council last December and  referred to the Committee on Finance and Revenue for its review, and following that was passed unanimously by the Council on first reading by voice vote on January 21st.

The underlying goal of this legislation, authored by at-large Councilmember Anita Bonds and vigorously — passionately, actually –- is to remove a growing impediment to the retention in the city of long-time, home-owning senior citizens who mostly rely on modest fixed incomes. The impediment referred to is the constantly ever-increasing real property taxes brought on by soaring property values in every ward city-wide which, even with the benefit of the senior citizen discount and homestead credit have in recent years been overtaking the ability to put aside sufficient funds to make the twice-yearly tax payments. The result is that the only solution is to give up, sell the home and move to a more affordable community outside of the city.

Fortunately for both these senior citizens and for the stability of neighborhoods across the city in which the retention of an older demographic that helps ensure a healthy mix of newcomers (usually younger) and long-timers, the fact that all the council members obviously recognize how important it is to actively encourage the retention of residents who, within their neighborhoods, are the collective memories of their communities and regularly serve as informal mentors to newer residents who will succeed them as the future neighborhood — and city — leaders and activists.

The public policy of the District of Columbia must be to ensure demographic diversity, including that of economic and age, if neighborhoods are to prosper.

It is for this reason that we applaud the work and commitment of both Councilmember Bonds and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who, as chair of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, provided the leadership and expertise to ensure that the bill would not adversely affect the city’s finances.\

To that end, the legislation exempts homeowners aged 75 years or older from paying any real property taxes on their primary residence –- whether it be a house, condominium or co-operative — if they have maintained DC residency for at least 20 years and have a household adjusted gross income of less than $60,000.

A review of the fiscal impact revealed that it will be minimal –- less than $5 million. So minimal is the fiscal impact that the DC Tax Commission, chaired by former Mayor Anthony A. Williams and charged with studying the District’s current tax code and making recommendations for changes where needed to the city council, did not deem it necessary to reference real property tax policy.

Interestingly, when all the members of the Council met as a Committee of the Whole with Williams on February 12th, at which time he formally delivered the Commission’s report and recommendations, in response to a specific inquiry from Councilmember Bonds about her bill, he stated that he personally saw no problems and could support it.

(The final bill will be the Council’s March 4th legislative meeting agenda for the second reading vote. Following that, the enrolled bill will be forwarded to Mayor Gray, who is expected to sign it into law.)

So, again, our plaudits to Councilmember Bonds for her important work to see this through and to Councilmember Evans for ensuring smooth passage through his finance committee’s deliberations, and to all the other council members who co-signed and voted in favor.