Durham officials are working on a loan program to help residents whose property taxes have gone up because of city-initiated revitalization, but how that program would work sparked fierce debate last week.
The idea sprang from a November city council work session in which longtime residents of the Southside neighborhood complained of an increase in their property taxes—$314 on average in 2016. At a work session Thursday, Mayor Bill Bell pitched a deferred loan program in which residents would get a loan for the difference in their property tax obligation from the previous year. They would only repay the zero-interest loan when they sold or transferred their home. Homeowners would be able to apply annually, but for no more than four years. Loans would be available to residents of Southside, Historic Northeast Central Durham, and Southwest Central Durham who have owned their homes for at least five years.
But some council members took issue with the idea of asking already struggling homeowners to pay back these loans when they sell their homes.
Jillian Johnson said it "makes no sense" to ask these homeowners to pay back their loans when the city gives economic incentives to private developers—for example, the $100,000 given recently to a group seeking to redevelop a building on Chapel Hill Street.
"We will never recoup that money," Johnson said. "We did it because we believe there are benefits to the city to having that corridor redeveloped that will benefit the community in different ways. ... I think nickel-and-diming people who are really struggling to stay in their homes when we are willing to give out thousands of dollars, millions of dollars to companies does not make sense."
Bell said his comments had been "totally misconstrued." He argued that this project shouldn't be compared to economic incentive programs and said homeowners wouldn't lose any money but would rather be able to stay in their homes longer because of the city's assistance.
City staffers estimate that $116,844 to $141,144 would be needed to assist eligible homeowners in the targeted neighborhoods.
This article appeared in print with the headline "+NICKEL AND DIME."