On the Ballot: House Bill 344, tax breaks for non-profit family home financing

Georgia

GEORGIA (WRBL) – As we inch closer to election day, Georgia voters have more to choose decide than just the next President of the United States. With early voting now open in Georgia, there are three ballot measures in voters’ hands.

House Bill 344 is the third the three measures on the ballot, and deals with property taxes for homes financed by non-profits for families in need, and to help address housing concerns across the state.

House Bill 344/Act No. 149:

Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes for all real property owned by a purely public charity, if such charity is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c)(3) of the federal Internal Revenue Code and such real property is held exclusively for the purpose of building or repairing single-family homes to be financed by such charity to individuals using loans that shall not bear interest?

Ballot description for HB 344

HB 344, also called Referendum A, would allow property owned by non-profit or public charity organizations to be exempt from ad valorem taxes on those properties, so long as it is used to build or repair single-family homes, and the homes are financed by said charities through zero interest loans.

An ad valorem tax is generally based off of the value of a piece of real estate or property and is collected annually. In practice, this means that if your home value goes up one year, your potential property tax could go up as well.

State lawmakers who have sponsored the referendum say it would help non-profits working to address affordable housing by offering a temporary abatement to the property taxes on the lands use to build new homes for the Georgia families who need it most.

“”From a dollar standpoint, if you combine statewide the amount of dollars that would be exempted from this property tax, should the voters decide to do this, it probably would not be a huge amount of money, but the point is that if an organization like Habitat for Humanity has the ability to stretch their already limited dollars even further, then that allows them to build more houses,” said Rep. Matthew Gambill, one of the sponsors of the bill.

Locally, Habitat for Humanity and NeighborWorks Columbus are two non-profits working to address what some say is a national housing crisis.

“Columbus isn’t any different than most communities in the entire country, we’re in an affordable housing crisis. So anything we can do whether it’s on the regulatory side or the legislative side that can help practitioners like Habitat and NeighborWorks in the field, make it more affordable, it is absolutely critical that it gets passed. We are completely 100% behind its passage,” said Cathy Williams, President and CEO of NeighborWorks Columbus.

If the referendum passes, so long as the property that has the single-family home on it is being financed solely through a non-profit with a zero interest loan, the ad valorem taxes won’t be up for collection.

The temporary abatement on collecting the property tax is intended to help the organizations build more and help more Georgians in communities across the state, without hitting their own wallets in the process. While the abatement doesn’t apply retroactively, if passed, Gambill says it should still help organizations build more homes for those in need.

“It’s a cost-saving measure, to help them, again, stretch their limited dollars even further so that they can build more houses,” says Gambill.

HB 344 was passed in both chambers of the legislature nearly unanimously across the aisle, showing strong bipartisan support. While the scope of the proposed referendum is narrow, lawmakers say it’s just part of a larger conversation on the housing crisis in the state.

“I think it will be more successful, at least initially, in the Metro-Atlanta area,” said Rep. Deborah Silcox, another sponsor of the bill. “I’m hopeful that we can help people in rural areas as well.”

Silcox thinks the effects of the referendum will start slow before growing across the state. A reason for that is the availability of transportation for low-income residents. Without transportation, Georgian workers can’t get from home to work, or vice-versa.

“Being the MARTOC chairman, I’m just very sensitive to the demand and the need for so many people to have housing, to have transportation they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Silcox.

The ability to get back and forth through public transport makes the proposed referendum more likely to succeed in metropolitan areas like Atlanta or Columbus before it spreads out across the state, according to Silcox.

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