Homeowners Seek to Overcome Tax Shock from Reassessment

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by Barrett Seaman

Tax Man BillOn November 7, the Greenburgh Assessor’s Office closed its books on the two-year process of revaluing properties in the township. At the end of the day, according to Assessor Edye McCarthy, some 3,200 homes had increases of more than 25%. Of those 1,100 applied for the three-year phase-in, of which 157 were denied for failure to meet one of the law’s stipulations—they hadn’t shown a valid Certificate of Occupancy, for example, or had a code violation or they refused to submit to an on-site inspection.

During the six months in which homeowners could appeal their Tyler Technologies re-assessment, about 3,200 did so. Meanwhile, 535 were granted reductions directly by the Assessor’s office, while another 237 got some relief from the Board of Assessment Review.

At this advanced stage of the review and appeal process, very few, if any, homeowners will get further relief, but local and state officials are continuing to offer ways to ease the financial burden to come.

Irvington was the hardest hit of the 10 Greenburgh taxing districts. Early last month, the Irvington Housing Committee (IHC) sponsored a panel of experts who outlined several ways to cope.

Originally formed to promote affordable housing in the village, the IHC is refocusing its efforts in the wake of the reassessment towards preventing a fire sale by existing homeowners. An audience of about two-dozen mostly older Irvington homeowners attended.

Representing the Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO) office, John Baker offered advice on reverse mortgages. A relatively recent product offered by lenders, a reverse mortgage provides access to the equity of a home. Baker offered an example of an owner who could get $363,000 in structured cash payouts on a home worth $500,000 with no mortgage debt balance.

The payout is based on the value of the home, the owner’s age, and the amount of mortgage debt.

However, Baker also cited caveats: while the recipient retains ownership of the property, he or she also retains responsibility for insurance, utilities and repairs, and the lender can require that part of the payout be spent on needed repairs, such as a new roof. Recipients of certain benefits, such as food stamps, may find that a reverse mortgage nullifies their qualification. And the closing costs associated with a reverse mortgage can be quite steep. The WRO, which requires counseling for anyone applying for a reverse mortgage, also assists in enforcing fair housing laws and offers a mortgage default prevention program. As for reverse mortgages, Baker said, “Frankly for me, the jury is still out about these products.”

Also on the panel was John Wolham of the New York State Office of Real Property Services. He ran through an extensive list of property tax exemptions that are available to homeowners, the best known of which is the STAR Credit. STAR takes a certain percentage off school taxes for owners of primary residences who earn less than $500,000-a-year in combined income, which means most will qualify.

Less well known is the Enhanced STAR credit, which shaves more money off the school tax bill for owners 65 and older earning less than $86,000-a-year. For senior citizens earning no more than $36,400, there is an additional exemption applied to village, town and county taxes as well as school taxes. Seniors earning $29,000 or less qualify for a full 50% reduction in taxes.

Wolham also outlined a variety of exemptions available for military veterans or those who performed alternative service during wartime. Enhanced discounts are available for those who served during war time or generally during the Cold War. For those 65 and older, the veteran exemptions are being superseded by the comprehensive senior citizen exemptions, said Wolham. There are also discounts available for persons with disabilities as well as for volunteer firefighters and EMTs.

The final speaker on the panel was Janice Silverberg, former chair of the Irvington Housing Committee and currently a village trustee. The board, she said, was doing everything it could, including its successful support for the three-year phase-in, to ease the burden on village homeowners. She also stressed that the programs she outlined applied strictly to Irvington residents—not those living elsewhere in Greenburgh.

Of greatest potential benefit to Irvingtonians is a recently enacted law permitting homeowners to rent out no more than one room in a house to a boarder. Silverberg specifically noted that there are potential renters among students at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry and the EF (Education First) program for foreign students in Tarrytown. Homeowners are also permitted to have accessory, or “in-law” apartments in their homes for use my family members or caregivers.

Details on most of the available exemptions and information on how to apply are available through the Greenburgh Assessor’s Office at 914-989-1520 or on its web site through www.greenburghny.com. John Wolham can be reached at 914-215-6242 or via johnwolham@tax.ny.gov. Those with questions about mortgage default prevention or reverse mortgages can contact John Baker at jbaker@wroinc.org or 914-428-4507. For more information about Irvington’s specific programs contact Larry Schopfer at 914-591-4358.

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