The Durham City Council has expanded a grant program for residents whose property tax bills have gone up because of city-backed revitalization in their neighborhood.
A program aimed at helping Southside residents is slated to roll out November 1. The council voted last week to also include some northeast central Durham and southwest central Durham residents. Grants will cover the difference between their 2015 and 2016 bills.
The initiative was created at the urging of Southside residents affected by new mixed-income housing the city helped to develop. A 2016 property revaluation saw tax bills there go up an average of $349, according to the city. (Homeowners must have lived in their homes since July 1, 2012, to qualify for the program.)
Some of those residents came to last Thursday's work session after seeing the details of the grant program. Nancy Grave, a lifelong Southside resident, said her bill had tripled and she wouldn't qualify for the program under the program's original terms.
Grave and other residents were particularly concerned about a requirement that recipients earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income, $42,420 for a family of four.
City staffers estimated that out of 133 residences that saw a tax increases, just 20 would be eligible. In response, the council unanimously raised the threshold to 80 percent of the area median income.
The council voted unanimously to expand the program to northeast central and southwest central Durham but split on whether to extend it from a one-year to a three-year program. Council members Charlie Reece, Jillian Johnson, and Steve Schewel voted against the extension but were overruled.
"We don't know enough to make a three-year decision on this," said Schewel, a candidate for mayor.
The council also split on whether to have residents pay 10 percent of their tax increase to rein in administrative costs. Schewel and outgoing council members Don Moffitt and Eddie Davis voted in favor of making residents pay—which the city staff thought was a reasonable measure—but they were outvoted.
Marie Hunter, who has lived in Southside for sixty-six years, said she and her neighbors have been asking for relief for nearly two years and will continue to push for help on behalf of other city residents.
"You've got to get something right for the whole city," she told the council. "Until you can do that, you're going to have problems."