Virginia localities are authorized to provide Real Estate Tax Relief (RETR) to homeowners aged 65 or over, as well as to permanently disabled homeowners. The current Arlington County RETR Program provides an exemption and/or deferral of real estate taxes for qualified Arlington homeowners whose annual household income is below $99,472, and whose household assets (excluding the value of their Arlington home) are below $340,000.
- A household may receive a full, 50 percent, or 25 percent exemption, depending on their income and household size.
- Homeowners within the income guidelines who have assets over $340,000 but below $540,000 may defer payment of their real estate taxes until their property changes ownership; no interest or penalties are charged.
The Department of Human Services (DHS) has overseen the RETR Program since 1991. In 2015, it approved 940 households for RETR, resulting in $4,218,957 in uncollected revenue.
Origins of the Working Group
The Arlington County Board adopted the County’s first Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) in September 2015. In conducting research for the AHMP, the County found that many low-income senior households on fixed incomes face financial stress related to increasing condominium fee and real estate tax burdens. The AHMP’s accompanying Implementation Framework included a recommendation to review the goals and guidelines of the RETR Program, and to consider redefinition of income levels, asset levels, and criteria for exemptions and deferrals.
As such, the County Manager presented several options for altering the program during the FY 2017 budget process. Instead of enacting specific changes at the time of the FY 2017 budget adoption, the County Board provided $50,000 in one-time funding and requested the formation of a working group to study the County’s current RETR Program and develop recommendations for consideration during the FY 2018 budget process.
Learn more about the working group’s official charge.
RETR Working Group Structure
The County Manager will appoint a limited-term advisory body, the RETR Working Group (view list of appointees), which will consist of a working group chair and vice-chair, along with members representing the following:
- Commission on Aging
- Disability Advisory Commission
- Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission
- Housing Commission
- Real Estate Tax Relief Program participant(s)
The working group will generally meet once a month for a period of approximately eight months, but additional meetings may be necessary in order to meet the proposed timeline.
Roles and Responsibilities
County Board members Christian Dorsey and John Vihstadt serve as liaisons to the working group. Staff will regularly update the liaisons on progress and any issues that may arise. The liaisons will update other County Board members as needed, or request that staff brief the Board at key points in the process.
The working group chair should have experience in Arlington processes, as well as a general understanding of the RETR Program. The working group vice-chair will support the work of the chair and serve as the chair’s substitute when necessary.
DHS will provide primary staff support to the RETR Working Group, with additional support and coordination provided by staff from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD), as well as from the Treasurer’s Office.
Staff will be augmented by a consultant with expertise in conducting surveys and focus groups.
The RETR Working Group and staff will utilize a variety of tools and methods to engage and communicate with the community, including, but not limited to:
- Community meetings
- Real Estate Tax Relief Working Group web page
- County Board work sessions
- Social media
- Surveys / focus groups
- Media releases
Major Work Product
The RETR Working Group will produce a program recommendations report highlighting the group’s key findings. The report will include a summary of best practices, survey / focus group results, and recommendations on the structure and administration of the RETR Program. More specifically, the report will:
- Identify innovative real estate tax relief programs and promising strategies from around the country. This portion of the report will examine the existing program structure, assist in identifying gaps or areas for potential change, and assess the feasibility of applying identified best practices in the Arlington environment.
- Incorporate the consultant’s review and analysis of the survey and / or focus group results. This portion of the report will inform the overall analysis of the current program.
- Propose eligibility / structural / administrative / other changes (if any) to the existing RETR Program.
- Appoint RETR Working Group
- Develop charge for RETR Working Group
- Conduct research on best practices
- Conduct surveys and/or focus groups with aid of consultants
- Check-in with County Board
- Develop draft report and recommendations
- Hold community forum on draft report and recommendations
- Develop final report and recommendations
- Present recommendations to the County Board