The 2021 Buncombe Tax Grant Scheme has been hailed as a success. What happens next?

Roy Harris has lived in his home on Bartlett Street in Asheville for more than three decades.

Like many in recent years, his property taxes have increased, he said, from around $3,000 to around $3,600 in 2021.

At the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting on February 1, Harris wanted to have a word on the situation with county leaders.

But, unlike many conversations about taxes, all he had to say was positive.

Harris came to thank the county for its 2021 homeowner grant program, which he says brought him $500 and some relief.

Harris is one of more than 1,200 Buncombe residents who received a portion of nearly $379,000 distributed in 2021 — in $300 and $500 increments — to help pay recently inflated property taxes.

Following:Asheville, Woodfin owners could soon get $500 in tax relief, county owners $300

Housing Report:WNC housing report: 125,000 people live in poverty, many cannot afford housing

Related:Buncombe County wants to build 3,000 units, invest $62 million and use tax credits

No final decision on whether to continue with this program has been made, but county staff told the Citizen Times it will be part of upcoming discussions before the new fiscal year begins in June.

Harris said he was unaware he was singing the program’s praises on the very day county staff would present its successes and challenges.

“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for providing that $500 to help me pay my property taxes. Sure, they had gone up about 30%, but it helped a lot at this time of year.”

Asheville resident Roy Harris speaks with the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners February 1, expressing his thanks for the homeowner grant scheme.

Harris also praised the county staff who helped complete his application, noting that the process was simple and the woman who helped him was courteous and prompt.

Harris said his grant application and award process felt a lot less “bureaucratic” than he expected.

“She answered questions and she said ‘Mr. Harris, I’ll get back to you in a few days.’ And she did. After I finished talking to her, I was like, ‘I’m never going to hear from her or this department again.'”

But Harris found the money quickly applied to his tax bill and he didn’t have to do anything else.

“It allows me to stay here for another year,” he said, adding, “and hopefully forever.”

Harris, 71, who is African American, calls himself and some of his neighbors “legal” members of the downtown Asheville community. He told the Citizen Times that since arriving in the area in the late 1980s, there have been significant changes in his own backyard.

Previous news:Are you suffering from the property tax increase? Buncombe homeowner grants could be revived in fiscal year 2023

Tax refund program:Many seniors benefit from Asheville’s popular tax refund scheme, Buncombe

Related:Asheville Economic Development Department to Focus on Affordable Housing

“Before, it was mostly African American,” he said of his neighborhood. “In my block there are about 14 houses. And when I moved here in 1987, all 14 houses were owned or rented or rented by African American families.”

Now, he said, there are only six of those African-American family homes left in his neighborhood. The people who own them are between about 55 and 88 years old, he said.

“In a way, the writing is on the wall that in 10 years our neighborhood could go from all black to all white. While you won’t necessarily get kicked out, you’ll be priceless.”

Harris said he is concerned about the housing issues the local government is currently trying to address, especially gentrification.

Census data:Census: Asheville Grows; its black population is shrinking

Related:Reassessment Disparity: Committee to Investigate Black, Poor, and Wealthy Neighborhoods

Roy Harris, who lives in downtown Asheville, said Buncombe County's homeowner grant program was a huge boon for him in 2021.

His family doesn’t live in the area, and he said they probably wouldn’t return to Asheville.

“It’s a big house,” he said. “I’m starting to wonder if I need all this space or not.”

The deeper issue is generational wealth, Harris said. “How do you pass on generational wealth to the family?” he said.

While her children may not come to live there one day, they could at least have the money from its eventual sale, Harris said.

“From what my kids are telling me now, they probably won’t be coming back to Asheville.”

Successful enough to continue?

The homeowner grant program — a tax coordination with the City of Asheville and the Town of Woodfin — was hailed by county staff as a “success.”

This is also a first-time program for the county and staff and elected officials plan to continue it in fiscal year 2023, provided they can work out in detail when to open the program and how many man hours are needed to make it work.

While the eligibility criteria remain the same, applicants must meet the following standards to receive a grant:

  • Duration of main residence: Five years.
  • Household income: At or below 80% AMI.
  • Application: Proof of income required unless you are already enrolled in County Health and Human Services means-tested economic assistance programs.
  • Other programs: The candidate will be matched with the most suitable programs without duplication of benefits. Households cannot already receive tax deferral assistance like homestead exemptions.

No formal action on the continuation of the program has been discussed in committee, but this could change in the coming months.

“Our budget team is in the preliminary stages of developing next year’s budget,” county spokeswoman Lillian Govus told the Citizen Times on Feb. 10. budget work sessions.”

The plan to seriously discuss renewing the grant comes after Buncombe Economics Director Phillip Hardin presented the final figures:

  • Applications approved: 1,263 requests out of 1,989 received.
  • County money was spent: $378,900.
  • Asheville/Woodfin money spent: $101,000.
  • Zip code with the most requests: 28806.

Hardin also noted that a portion of respondents submitted information about their race: 7% were black, 62% were white.

A map presented by Buncombe Economics Director Phillip Hardin shows where most homeowner grant applications for 2021 are coming from.

“It’s a new idea, it’s something we’ve tried. I think we have to assess, ‘OK, we’re giving so much benefit to the community. But how much work does it take to deliver that level of benefit? said Commission Chairman Brownie Newman.

He asked Hardin how long the staff took overall to launch the program.

Hardin said he would be willing to calculate the time spent on the project and also made recommendations for repeating it.

Start accepting and closing applications sooner, he suggested. “We were pressed for time,” he said, noting that the mortgage receivers often paid the full property taxes before the county could administer the grant money.

Buncombe Director of Economic Services Phillip Hardin addresses the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners on February 1, presenting the results of the 2021 homeowner grant program.

Hardin also suggested adjustments to program policy.

Address situations with multiple owners and multiple incomes, he said, and address issues raised by mobile homes and other property that does not belong to the owner.

Harris said the subsidy is a way for former Buncombe residents to manage rising prices and said the county should continue with it. Change the system, he says, or risk losing quarters.

“A lot of African-American families and some low-income families can’t afford such a leap,” he said. “And maybe they decide, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving. “”

Andrew Jones is a Buncombe County government and health care reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or [email protected] Help support this kind of journalism by subscribing to the Citizen Times.

About Georgia Duvall

Check Also

Rehabilitation program helps ex-criminals unlock their potential with computers

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – As Memphians struggle to come to terms with the tragic events surrounding …