The amount senior and disabled homeowners in Harris County can exempt from the value of their homes before paying property taxes now covers the entire value of a median-price home in the county.

What happened

Harris County commissioners voted 4-0 May 7—with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo being absent from the vote—to increase property tax exemptions for senior and disabled residents by $45,000, from $275,000 to $320,000. The figure now allows the owner of a home at the median value in Harris County, estimated at $320,000, to exempt the entire value of their home, said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who placed the item on the agenda.

The exemption can be applied to taxes paid to the county, the Harris County Flood Control District and the Harris County Hospital District, Garcia said.

The context

Garcia has led several initiatives to raise property tax exemptions for senior and disabled homeowners since being elected commissioner in 2019.
  • Commissioners voted unanimously in May 2020 to increase exemptions from $160,000 to $229,000.
  • Another unanimous vote in June 2022 increased exemptions from $229,000 to $250,000.
  • The boost from $250,000 to $275,000 came following a unanimous vote in May 2023.

A property tax exemption can be approved by taxing entities in Texas, including cities, counties and school districts, as a way to alleviate property tax burdens. Exemptions are available for all homeowners, and additional exemptions can be passed for senior and disabled homeowners. Harris County also offers a general homestead exemption of 20%.

The amount of an exemption is subtracted from a homeowner's property value as a way to lower how much that homeowner pays in taxes.

The combined tax rate in fiscal year 2023-24 for the county, the HCFCD and the HCHD is $0.52455 per $100 valuation. Under the previous exemption amount, a senior or disabled homeowner with a property valued at $500,000 would be able to exempt $100,000 using the 20% general exemption, plus another $275,000, leaving $125,000 to be taxed. They would owe those three entities roughly $655 in taxes.

Under the new amount, a homeowner would be left with $80,000 in taxable value and would owe around $419 in taxes to those three entities.

Harris County Budget Director Daniel Ramos said the move is considered "revenue neutral" because it allows the Harris County Appraisal District to process exemptions before giving its preliminary estimates.

What they're saying

"This ever-increasing cost of living is felt by all, but particularly by our most vulnerable, ... our seniors and disabled communities, who are often on fixed incomes that are rarely adjusted for current inflation," Garcia said at the May 7 meeting. "This can alleviate the pricing out of longtime homeowners because of higher tax bills."

Also of note

Just under one year after Harris County adopted a policy giving a 50% property tax exemption to nonprofits that own and operate affordable housing, commissioners approved an item May 7 asking several county offices to study how the policy has helped the preservation of affordable housing and to explore possibly expanding it to 100%.

Since the 50% exemption went into effect, Garcia, who also proposed this item, said $49,807 in tax savings has been passed on to 442 affordable rental units operated by two developers—Avenue and Neighborhood Care Center Houston. The policy saved on average about $113 in rent per unit per year for each working family living in those units, Garcia said.

The goal of potentially increasing the exemption to 100% is to get more developers to take advantage of the policy outside of the two who already have, Garcia said. County officials will come back to commissioners in August with a proposal.

"Nonprofits like Avenue are providing really important affordable housing to low-income households in the county," Avenue CEO Mary Lawler told commissioners at the meeting. "We are struggling with rising costs, particularly our property insurance costs. And so getting this exemption really helps us to maintain this affordable housing, and we’re very grateful for this study."