In Coveted Nashville Neighborhoods, A Rush To Protect Senior Citizens From Rising Property Taxes

Mar 21, 2017

Many Nashville neighborhoods are bracing for their new property tax bills, which could be substantially higher after this year’s countywide assessment — so much so that homeowners may find it difficult to keep up with the costs.

But before that can happen, there’s been a mass mobilization of volunteers to spread the word about Metro’s little-known tax freeze and relief programs.

Low-income seniors — over age 65 and earning no more than $41,660 — can lock in their tax bills now, before they rise. And for those earning less than $29,180, the relief program can roll back the amount due. (Military veterans with 100 percent disability status, of any age and income, also qualify.)

More: Tax freeze website and Metro Trustee phone number: 615-862-6330

In advance of the April 5 application deadline, churches, senior centers and neighborhood associations have been helping people enroll.

  • Metro Trustee Charlie Cardwell, who oversees tax collection, has hosted more than 60 events.
  • In Bordeaux Hills, the neighborhood paid for automated phone calls.
  • And Nashville Organizing for Action and Hope (NOAH) is canvassing door-to-door in areas expecting large tax increases.

“Every time I have said to somebody that an area is going to increase (values) by 57 percent people gasp,” said Ann Gwin, a NOAH volunteer. “We would like to see people be able to age in place, as they say, and not be taxed out of their homes.”

Volunteers use Metro Social Services data to identify neighborhoods where property values — and taxes — are rising.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN

Gwin and other promoters of the tax freeze see it as one tool to slow down gentrification — the displacement of long-time residents. Yet they worry whether residents are taking full advantage.

“Many people are unaware … or don’t recognize it, or the wording, and don’t realize they’re eligible,” she said.

Just more than 7,000 residents have been taking advantage of the tax freeze program in the past six years, according to data from Metro Trustee Charlie Cardwell. He said last week that he expects the number to increase by about 1,000 this year.

A large portion of participants have had assistance enrolling from FiftyForward centers. A spokeswoman said they’ve helped more than 3,000 to sign up over the years. (Their final aid date is April 3 at the Madison Station center. Appointments can be made by calling 615-860-7180.)

In Germantown, A Block Has ‘Changed Radically’

It’s hard to find a more picturesque neighborhood street than the one where Irene Boyd lives.

From the porch of her 1920s home in Germantown, she sees Civil War-era homes on one side, restaurants and boutiques on the other, and red brick sidewalks that connect everything.

“Most recently, we had some condos built at the very end of the block, where I think the end condo was estimated to be a million dollars,” Boyd says. “The ironic thing is that Germantown is now what it is, and I could not afford to move in. … I just hit in a lucky time.”

It’s hard to believe now, but when Boyd arrived in 1981, Germantown featured dilapidated homes, a lot of light industry, and a foul smell in the air.

But it was affordable. Boyd had lived nearly a decade in a convent, and worked in modest professions serving others ever since, such as in the state foster care system, with the Catholic Diocese, and in a methadone clinic.

Like thousands of Nashvillians, Boyd had been receiving Metro’s tax freeze and tax relief brochure each year. It’s usually in the envelope alongside her property tax letter.

“But I didn’t read it carefully and I just assumed I didn’t qualify,” she said.

But she did. And a year ago, she took the brochure to the office of the trustee.

“And I thought I’d have this huge wait because people would just be lined up all over the place. But it turned out we went in and were out in less than an hour,” Boyd said.

Her story has now become a case study, referenced by groups like NOAH. And Boyd said she thinks the program will also allow some of her neighbors to stay.

“Change has been radical, and in this area, I think it’s been good,” Boyd said. “I’m glad to live here.”

In Bordeaux Hills, A Master Class In Neighborhood Advocacy

While nonprofits have rushed to talk about the tax freeze program in recent months, residents of Bordeaux Hills have been hearing about the program for the third, fourth or even fifth time.

That’s because association president Ruby Baker began her ground game last summer, inviting officials to talk about the property assessment and relief programs.

Another three events have followed — not just informational, but actual sign-up sessions for the tax freeze. Typically, applications must be taken to the trustee’s office, downtown.

Baker used voter registration information to identify likely applicants and has persistently followed-up with fliers, emails and even automated calls. For those, her familiar voice describes the program for 30 seconds.

Over time, she has reached about 500 households and notched dozens of applicants.

“There were a lot of them that did not know about the program,” Baker said. “About 70 people had the opportunity to sign up in a convenient location.”

She recalls one man who arrived at a mobile sign-up with her flier in hand.

“That,” she said, “just made my day.”