Change in requirements for tax relief program means more people qualify

by: Jeff Smith Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

For the first time in years, struggling homeowners across Charlotte could save hundreds of dollars on taxes.

The state is changing its requirements for relief programs, which means more people qualify.

Retired postman James Weathers has stacks of tax paperwork in his home. The 76-year-old pays almost $1,200 a year in property taxes, and said it's difficult on a fixed income.

“The groceries, the medication and everything else,” Weathers said.

He lives in Clanton Park in south Charlotte, the neighborhood with the greatest percentage of homeowners who qualify for property tax breaks.

He's applying for the county's Homestead Exclusion Program, which could save him $600 a year.

“Any help that you can get now means a lot, especially being a senior citizen,” Weathers said.

The exclusion cuts the property tax bills of elderly, low-income homeowners in half.

Becky Gunter oversees the program, and points out more than 9 percent of county residents are older than 65.

“As the population gets older, we're going to have more applicants,” Gunter said.

In 2009, 4,000 local homeowners were approved for the program. This year, the number jumped to more than 4,600.

Still, nearly 1,000 people were denied.

“I've had individuals crying because they couldn't afford their groceries,” Gunter said.

For the first time in years, the state Department of Revenue increased the income eligibility limit, but just by $1,000, to a little bit more than $28,000.

It’s something that's frustrating to Gunter, who sends out the denial notices.

“I wish the state would kind of raise the income eligibility limit even more,” she said.

But the changes will provide tax relief for more seniors, like Olivia Duff, who's living off a $1,000 a month Social Security check.

“The struggle is trying to keep food in your refrigerator, buy medicine and just keeping the house together,” Duff said.

The Department of Revenue is considering another adjustment, raising the limit to $30,000. But it won't make that decision until next summer.

For more information about the program, click here.