Property tax relief available for some residents

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By Jennifer Garcia

Thanks to House Bill 661, a program that was passed by the State Legislature and enacted this year, homeowners whose homes have been subsidized by a federal, state, or local affordable housing program may be entitled to a reduced property valuation.

In turn, that could entitle homeowners to a reduced property tax liability.

Beginning this week, Housing Program Manager Steve Brugger will send out letters to approximately 60 households in the Piñon Trails subdivision, who are expected to receive a decrease in valuation of property tax purposes of approximately $4.322 million.

Brugger said that out of 121 households in the Piñon Trails subdivision, 60 were deemed as affordable homes.

“Part of the thinking was that you’re trying through subsidies to reduce the principal and interest part of payments, you’re also reducing your insurance,” Brugger said. “Residents of Piñon Trails don’t pay private mortgage insurance, and that reduces the payment, as well.”

He also said that the idea behind the process was that it would be reasonable to assess homes that were subsidized based on their subsidized value, rather than their market value.

“If you go through extraordinary efforts to lower payments to make them affordable, the property taxes should follow suit,” Brugger said.

In 2005, according to Brugger, Santa Fe County had started a program where the county assessor had reduced the valuation of affordable houses in an effort to help residents with property taxes, however, once the new assessor took over, the program was concluded. He said that the program wasn’t enabled by the state, and there was “an effort by a lot of folks” to get the legislature to enable the program.

During this past legislative session, the state allowed county assessors to reduce their valuation for subsidized properties based on the amount of the subsidy that was given.

For instance, if the house valuation was $210,000 and the subsidy was $90,000, the valuation would be reduced to $120,000 and the assessed value would be applied to that figure.

“It makes a big difference for some households in this program,” Brugger said. “The reduction would be over 50 percent of the value and the property tax relief would be $500-$600, maybe, per year. This is all towards the goal of trying to make homes more affordable and allow folks to stay in them comfortably.”

Brugger said that the Los Alamos County Assessor’s office has worked with its counterparts in Santa Fe and with the affordable housing providers in Santa Fe to come up with a program and the process for reducing property valuation.

“There was quite a bit of effort with homeowners to get lower financing,” Brugger said. “Part of the homeowners training that they went through was to make sure they could get into a payment that they could reasonably afford. To our knowledge, there have been no foreclosures. This program is more progress towards our goal of making these payments more affordable.”

Brugger said that homeowners still have to submit an application to receive assistance, however, a lot of the work has been done and in some cases, such as those living in the Piñon Trails subdivision, homeowners just need to sign the paperwork and return it to the county assessor’s office.

Bob Fuselier, president of the Los Alamos Housing Partnership, a nonprofit organization that helped the county develop the Piñon Trails project in White Rock, feels that the project is fine example of nonprofits and for-profit organizations working together.

“What we did was develop the Piñon Trails subdivision in a manner where we took the developer’s profits and put them into subsidies for affordable housing,” Fuselier said. “The goal was to develop 121 lots, with 50 for affordable housing.”

He said that relieving the tax burden for people who are in the workforce and trying to raise a family is worthwhile.

“The subsidy staying in the community is a big point,” Fuselier said.

Residents who receive a letter from Brugger’s office need to fill out the forms and submit them to the county assessor’s office by Dec. 31.

For more information call Brugger at 662-8197.