By Virginia Bridges | January 5, 2017
DURHAM – City officials are exploring a forgivable loan program for homeowners who struggle to pay their taxes following revitalization in the Southside neighborhood.
Mayor Bill Bell proposed the idea to help residents pay city property tax bills that have surged since the public-private reconstruction of the Rolling Hill site, which two previous private developers tried and failed to pull off.
The effort, which included building rental and standalone housing, has raised property values and taxes based on a January 2016 countywide reassessment.
Some of those property owners attended a City Council meeting in November and expressed concern about being able to afford to their tax payments.
Bell’s proposal focuses on the Southside area because the city’s investment there drove up property values, he said. His initial proposal suggested income and age requirements to be determined later.
Qualified homeowners could apply for loan to bridge the cost of the tax payment before and after improvements in the area. The forgivable loans would remain in effect for as long as they occupy the home. If the homes were sold, the city would be reimbursed.
Bell’s proposal competes with another plan endorsed by various groups, including the Southside Neighborhood Association and the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, that calls for a pilot grant program administered by a nonprofit organization to help 13 Southside homeowners to cover the increase in taxes and maintain their homes. The pilot program would cost $5,000 and would be jointly funded by the city and the county.
Nonprofit Reinvestment Partners has offered to administer for free the pilot program, which advocates want to become a countywide program.
Other council members said they support the spirit of Bell’s proposal, but asked whether it would be more efficient to give a grant to a nonprofit to run the program.
“I think we ought to be thinking about both of these things and kind of which is the best alternative,” said City Councilman Steve Schewel.
Council members Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece also said they hope the model could eventually be used for homeowners across the city.
“I agree,” Bell said.
Council members asked the city administration to review the proposal and provide feedback on its legality.
Officials also plan to discuss the idea at a Joint City-County Committee at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the second-floor committee room at City Hall, at 101 City Hall Plaza.
Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges
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