The Homeowner’s Exemption is a method of property tax savings that has been in place since 1974. It allows any homeowner who has owned their home since January 1st of the year to apply a reduction of up to $7000 to their home’s assessed value for property tax purposes. The full $7000 reduction will only be applied if the homeowner applies for the Homeowner’s Exemption between January 1st and February 15th, otherwise the amount will be prorated. In addition, parent-to-child transfer benefits from Prop 19 also require the child to apply for a Homeowner’s Exemption within 12 months of the transfer.
Despite the fact that the majority of homeowners qualify for the Homeowner’s Exemption, almost a third of homeowners in Los Angeles County don’t apply for it. This accounts for about $30 million in unclaimed exemptions each year. If you are in LA county, in order to apply, fill out the application at www.assessor.lacounty.gov/hox. It can be printed and mailed to the LA County Assessor’s Office, or emailed to HOX@assessor.lacounty.gov. Currently, there is no fully online application, but there are plans for one soon.
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Throughout the country, Black homeowners pay an average of 13% higher property taxes than White homeowners. This is because of assessed values, which are on average 10% higher in Black and Latinx neighborhoods relative to the sale price. Local governments use higher property tax rates to push for gentrification, which they know new white owners can pay but the minority families already living there cannot. White buyers are also more easily able to appeal their property tax assessment.
The problem is worse in California, where Prop 13 is limiting property tax rates on unsold homes by basing property tax assessments on the value at time of sale. The proposition is designed to protect older residents who are on a fixed income and could otherwise lose their homes. But there are some negative consequences for low-income buyers. As soon as the home is sold, the new buyer is potentially facing significantly higher property taxes than the previous owner was, which prices out some people who are otherwise able to afford the purchase itself. And in the meantime, local government has less revenue from property taxes, so they have to make up the difference elsewhere. This often comes in the form of sales tax, which, because the rate is identical regardless of the buyer’s income, is proportionally a larger burden for Black and Latinx indivduals who tend to be lower-income earners.
Taxes aren’t the only issue Black and Latinx people face, though. When the economy crashed in 2007-2009, minorities were disproportionately affected because of discriminatory lending practices. Lenders would statistically charge higher fees to minorities with equal qualification as whites, or steer minorities towards subprime loans regardless of credit history. This meant they were less likely to be able to pay their mortgages after the crash. With all these barriers to homeownership, Black and Latinx individuals lose out on one of the largest sources of wealth, owning a home.
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