This op-ed was co-written by Danny Harris, the advocacy director for AARP Utah. It originally appeared in the Deseret News.
Many older Utahns across the state purchased their homes as young adults and have built their lives around these properties. To this group, their home is not just a place to sleep and to stay out of the elements — it is a true family heirloom and a lasting representation of their lives.
Today, Utahns living on fixed and low incomes are in jeopardy of being displaced from the home where they raised their children, created memories and realized their life’s dreams for decades.
At the heart of this issue is a dramatic increase in property taxes during the past few years. Cities, such as Ogden and Brigham City, saw property tax increases of 25% to 70% in 2019. On an even more extreme scale, small towns such as Charleston and Joseph experienced increases of up to 130% in that same year. We are now hearing from Utahns across the state who are concerned about their ability to keep up with these rising tax bills.
Wayne, a Park City resident, has seen his property taxes skyrocket during the past year. This extreme rise in property taxes has been deeply troubling. Such drastic rises in property taxes are causing large financial burdens to be placed on older Utahns, like Wayne, who often rely on a fixed income to pay their bills and maintain their lifestyle.
Jerry and Francis, also Utahns, have experienced a similar situation. This couple has personally seen their property tax increase around 600%, while some of their neighbors have also seen similar increases. With a monthly income that is fixed, Jerry and Francis have struggled to maintain their ability to pay property taxes and, as a result, could be in jeopardy of losing their home.
Duane, an 81-year-old from Bountiful is concerned about how his property taxes are affecting his budget. Duane, who now lives on a fixed income, bought his home 51 years ago for $25,000. Unfortunately, with dramatic increases in property value, he now must pay more in property taxes each month than he does for his mortgage.
AARP’s 2021 Home and Community Preferences survey found that more than three-quarters of adults ages 50 and older want to stay in their homes and communities as they age. Not surprisingly, these real stories illustrate how increases in property taxes can jeopardize this option for older Utahns who do not have the funds to keep up with spiking taxes and may be at risk of losing their homes
With much of the senior population relying on a fixed income from Social Security, this feat becomes nearly impossible without them scaling back on other necessities like health care, groceries or utilities. Even after scaling back, having the financial means to keep up with property taxes may still not be possible. A senior choosing between what could potentially be lifesaving health care or staying in their home is not a choice they should face.
According to Statista/AARP analysis of data available by the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 1,660 Utahns over the age of 65 experiencing homelessness in 2021. Nobody wants to see a grandparent or parent face homelessness or severe financial burdens. Our loved ones are supposed to be enjoying their days, spending time with family, and creating new memories. They absolutely should not be constantly consumed with anxiety over whether they can maintain payments on their home’s taxes.
There is hope that this egregious situation will be remedied soon. SB25, sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, would create a property tax deferment program for older Utahns across the state.
The property tax deferment program would allow homeowners 75 years of age or older with an annual income below $65,000 to defer the payment of their property taxes until the homeowner either decides to sell their home or the ownership of the property is transferred, at which point taxes will be paid back with interest.
This program is well-designed to help long-term residents stay in their homes and communities as they age. Moreover, the program protects county revenue streams and funding for vital local services and does not create long-term costs to other taxpayers. This is because the deferral provides targeted relief to those homeowners who need it most — lower- and middle-income older Utahns, and the tax gets paid back to the county with interest.
If Utah does not provide property tax relief to this population, older Utahns across our state will continue to worry that their property tax bill will be larger than what they can afford, and they might be forced out of their homes and communities. This situation must be avoided. We urge policymakers to support SB25 and help provide a path for more Utahns to keep their roof over their heads.