Every year when Nashville property owners pay their tax bills, some residents turn to the city for financial assistance.
Metro’s tax relief program reimburses homeowners for most or all of their paid property taxes. For low-income elderly residents or homeowners with disabilities, the initiative tries to ensure people aren’t priced out.
Residents that meet the requirements have until April 5, 2021, to apply for help. If they qualify before bills are due in February they have a chance of paying a reduced bill. Enrollments after February can potentially receive a refund. Once in the program, recipients have to recertify yearly to keep the benefit.
A WPLN News analysis finds fewer residents received help on 2019’s tax bill compared to the last several years.
During the pandemic the deadline to apply was extended by three months to give people more time, but enrollment still dipped: 6,044 are getting relief, which is about 10% lower than the average of the past seven years.
In the past, Nashville Property Tax Assessor Vivian Wilhoite has done community outreach to ensure people know help is available. So she thinks fewer people signed up because there wasn’t enough of that happening.
“You have to continue to re-educate consumers,” Wilhoite says as she explains a hypothetical situation. ” ‘Today, I am 39, at some point I will become the age of someone who could qualify for the program.’ Something could devastate my life. What a difference a day can make.”
Wilhoite says it’s more effective when multiple city agencies spread the word, and not only the office in charge. That’s the Office of the Trustee. WPLN News received numbers from the office but wasn’t able to do an interview. A spokesperson says the office plans to review enrollment numbers on a monthly basis for more accountability.
There’s been turnover in the position since the 2019 death of longtime Trustee Charlie Cardwell. Parker Toler was appointed to the position before voters chose former Councilwoman Erica Gilmore for the position. Her first day on the job was Sept. 1.
Since taking office, Gilmore has hosted outreach events about tax relief and tax freeze at the Goodlettsville City Hall and Northwest Family YMCA in Bordeaux. Her office says it also disseminated information about tax relief at three community events in September, and it has launched social media accounts.
“This year has presented challenges, but we’re committed to innovating and reaching out,” Gilmore said. “We know people are hurting, and our staff is working really hard.”
At-Large Councilmember Burkley Allen says the city could work with property assessor to research why there’s a drop in enrollment and create a comprehensive plan to get the word out.
“Perhaps we can work with the property assessor to determine if the number of people who qualify has changed,” she says. “It would be helpful to know, of the people that qualify what percentage we typically get and if that percentage has gone down.”
The Trustee’s office says the state changed income eligibility. The requirements vary for elderly people, military veterans, people with disabilities and spouses of veterans with disabilities.
Martha Carroll is a part of Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, or NOAH, which is a progressive faith-based coalition that advocates for low-income residents. They’ve sent out tax relief information through churches and placed fliers in bags at a local food pick-up program.
Carroll says tax relief enrollment should be streamlined.
“It would make a whole lot more sense [that] rather than people having to apply, if you’re under a certain level and you’re over a certain age than you just automatically get that benefit,” she says.
Some applicants can also find help through a local nonprofit, The Housing Fund, which is providing aid to those burdened by the tax increase.
Correction: This article originally misstated the date Erica Gilmore because Metro trustee. It was Sept. 1, not March. The article also misstated the timeline for Nashvillians to apply for 2020 tax relief. It opened in October and will close in April. This post has been updated with more information from the trustee’s office on their outreach efforts.