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Councilor Edwards Pushes Tax Relief for Bostonians

Councilor Edwards Pushes Tax Relief for Bostonians

City can forgive interest and extend payment plans for
seniors & low-income homeowners

BOSTON, MA (Thursday, May 31st, 2018) - Today, the Boston City Council held a hearing on a petition sponsored by Councilor Lydia Edwards to ease financial burden on residents who fall behind on property taxes. Specifically, the Councilor is urging the city to opt in to a state law that would lengthen the period of repayment for back taxes and allow the city to forgive a portion of accrued interest. Communities such as Springfield, Randolph and New Bedford have opted in to the state law.

“This simple change would offer modest financial relief to low-income homeowners, keeping Bostonians who have fallen behind on property taxes housed and giving them a chance to get back on their feet,” said Councilor Edwards. “Boston can move to enact a more equitable tax collection policy.”

Although the city offers a tax deferral program for some residents of at least 65 years of age, all other residents who have fallen behind on taxes must make a 25% down payment of the amount owed and pay all of the remaining taxes within one year. Additionally, the tax deferral program only covers future tax liability, such that if a resident reaches the age of 65 with tax debt, they must still pay existing back taxes with a high down payment and within a year.

“I applaud the hard work of city employees, including many former colleagues, to assist taxpayers and prevent foreclosure, but the city can do more to coordinate resources and reduce burden on homeowners,” added Edwards. “It doesn’t hurt the city to give residents who are struggling a little flexibility--it shows we’re paying attention to what our communities need.”

In testimony submitted to the council, Greater Boston Legal Services urged the council to opt in to create more flexible payment plans and also recommended the City file a Home Rule Petition to allow flexibility on initial down payments for tax arrears. Currently, the state requires Boston to collect a 25% down payment on back taxes, creating significant hurdles for residents who are already struggling financially.

“Many elders and those with disabilities may be house-rich but cash poor,” said Nadine Cohen,

Managing Attorney of the Consumer Rights Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services. “On limited fixed incomes, they often do not have the money to pay their taxes and are not aware of their eligibility for certain tax abatements or deferral of taxes.”

Councilor Edwards expressed support for the home rule idea. “Look, the fact is we have about 10,000 defaults a year and 1600 liens placed on our properties. Where there is relief, many Bostonians don’t know about it, and often times find out too late. We need a comprehensive approach to helping taxpayers, from state level reform such as reducing the 25% downpayment, to making sure city agencies and the city council are working together to help struggling taxpayers before there is a lien, to providing Bostonians with longer payment plans and lower interest by opting to use the tools the Commonwealth has given us.”

Following the hearing, the issue will likely move to a series of working sessions that will help to inform a proposed ordinance while also addressing coordination of city resources for taxpayers.

updated: 2 years ago