Officials at Northern Virginia's Habitat for Humanity said they hope to have a deal reached with the city of Alexandria by the end of the year on a property tax relief package for Habitat for Humanity homeowners, many of whom have had trouble paying their property taxes amid skyrocketing real estate rates.
Karen Cleveland, executive director of the Northern Virginia arm of the housing nonprofit organization, said the group is nearing an agreement with the city that could cut the low-income homeowners' taxes nearly in half. City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa confirmed that a relief deal was imminent.
"It's hard to believe it has taken this long," Cleveland said. "Hopefully, with Alexandria, it will happen any day."
Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia launched a campaign last year to persuade localities to provide tax relief for their homeowners, arguing that Habitat homes shouldn't be assessed at market rates because deed restrictions prevent their owners from selling the homes for profit until the 20-year mortgages are paid.
If homeowners sell their homes before 20 years are up, they must sell them back to Habitat for what they paid -- $80,000 to $120,000 in most cases, Cleveland said. She hopes Alexandria will assess the homes at that restricted value, not the market rate.
The group has had some success in Fairfax County, where assessors have granted several appeals. Arlington hasn't addressed the issue, Cleveland said. A county spokesman did not return calls for comment Friday.
Kesha James, 30, a homeless woman-turned-homeowner whose fight to keep her home was profiled on the front page of The Washington Post on Feb. 14, said she did not know whether she would be able to keep her home even if a deal is reached.
"It's hard, you know? Right now I'm going through a lot," she said. "It's so overwhelming for me. I go from one problem to the next."
James's rowhouse has more than doubled in value since it was built in 1999 and is now worth $500,000. Because of rising tax assessments, her monthly house payment, which includes taxes, has soared from $515 to $1,096 in a little more than two years.
Despite the continued uncertainty, she said her life improved with the many offers of assistance she received when her story became public. One area family donated furniture and gave her $300 to fix a plumbing problem. A Montgomery County financier offered to pay for her college education and lend other financial support, to the extent that she was able to quit her extra part-time job. She still works full time at a nonprofit.
She expects to finish her first semester at Northern Virginia Community College this year. She's managed a B average. And best yet, because she quit her part-time job, she was able to spend Thanksgiving with her three daughters.
Yet with tax relief not yet a reality, James feels overwhelmed by the struggle to raise her young daughters as a separated single mom and to maintain her home, which needs new siding and has drainage problems.
"I'm so grateful for everything, but I don't know. . . . Maybe Alexandria isn't the place for me right now," she said.
-- Annie Gowen