Property taxes for homeowners over 65 who volunteer may be reduced


Homeowners age 65 and older would have an opportunity to save on their San Antonio property tax bill by volunteering for the city under a policy proposal tabled Wednesday by District 5 City Councilwoman Teri Castillo.

Seniors might organize books at public libraries, answer phones or help with arts and recreational classes at senior centers, read to others, or participate in other volunteer activities that interest them.

Castillo sees this as an opportunity not only to help seniors keep their homes despite rising home valuations and tax bills this year, but also to improve socialization.

“What’s important in times of COVID is that it would help mitigate the isolation that many of our seniors are experiencing,” Castillo said.

Someone who volunteers 42 hours during the year can receive up to $300 off their city property tax bill. Castillo asked city officials to outline the budget and performance metrics for a pilot program called the San Antonio Volunteer Exemption for Seniors, or SAVES.

The city council began setting goals for its annual budget last month and is expected to consider a draft next week. San Antonio also provided $5 million from its federal pandemic assistance under the American Rescue Plan Act for Seniors.

Castillo wants her proposal to align with both spending plans. District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, District 9 Councilman John Courage, and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry support the proposal.

Tax breaks have been in the spotlight since the city council began deliberating on its budget. Mayor Ron Nirenberg has already promised help. Many homeowners were shocked over the past month to find that their home appraisals, which form the basis of property tax bills, have risen dramatically.

The median home value in 2022 increased an average of 23.2 percent from $250,806 to $309,118, according to the appraisal district. The district’s chief assessor called the increase “unprecedented in San Antonio.”

As a result, San Antonio is likely to increase its homestead tax exemption — a tool that lowers the taxable value of a home and lowers the taxes paid on it. It remains to be seen how much the city can increase from its current exemption of 0.01 percent, or a minimum of $5,000 per household.

Since then, many city council members have hosted workshops to teach residents how to protest their appreciation or access relief.

Castillo said she’d like to see more homestead exemptions, but reducing the property tax burden should also include other approaches.

“We continue to see these property taxes increase drastically,” she said. “We have to make sure we have all the security measures in place.”

This year in particular, the municipal offices received more and more calls about property taxes. As real estate prices soar, San Antonio and the nation are also experiencing high inflation. Food, gas and electricity cost more for everyone.

The City of Boston has a similar program that allows seniors to work off a portion of their property taxes.

Cabello Havrda agreed that the city needs to evaluate all of its options, especially for people with special needs such as seniors, people with disabilities, and veterans. Her office has heard from many seniors who may have steady incomes and are overwhelmed by their rising property values.

“It’s almost an outcry to come to us and say how we can lighten that burden,” said Cabello Havrda.

If the program works well, she could expand it to other populations that may be vulnerable to rising property tax burdens.

Such a senior volunteer program is permitted under the Texas tax code, which mandates that individuals who are at least 65 years old can work for a control unit rather than pay homestead taxes.

The city already has some forms of tax relief for seniors on the books. For homeowners age 65 and older, there is a $65,000 exemption for qualifying homesteads. San Antonio also has a tax freeze for seniors and people with disabilities. About 45 percent of all San Antonio homesteads receive a tax freeze.

“We must find alternative and innovative solutions to reduce the property tax burden on our seniors so that we can enable our seniors to age in place,” Castillo said.

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