King County uses ACS data to help older Americans with housing affordability

King County uses the American Community Survey data in many ways to support our residents.  The following story from King County Assessor John Wilson was featured in the ACS User Data group; which includes users from cities and counties around the nation.  This story was put together by the assessor’s office, the Executive Office, and Public Health staff; including Chandler Felt and Susan Kinne.

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King County Assessor John Wilson

When I became King County Assessor in 2016, real estate values had been jumping at a double-digit pace annually and housing affordability was headed towards a crisis level—especially for low-income seniors, the disabled, and disabled veterans.

A state-authorized property tax exemption program is available to low-income homeowners over the age of 61, but we thought that King County’s enrollment level was low. We turned to the ACS to identify how many potential applicants were in King County and where they might be located.

The ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files provided the flexibility to conduct a custom analysis that met our eligibility criteria (homeowner, over age of 61, and household income below $40,000). We found that there were approximately 40,000 households eligible for tax exemption in King County, but only 15,000 households were enrolled in the program at the time of our analysis.

assessorWe set in action an outreach plan based on ACS data to increase enrollment. By reaching into certain neighborhoods with large numbers of lower-income homeowners, we were able to increase the number of homeowners applying for the program. After 18 months, the Department of Assessments had brought in nearly 7,500 new applications from potentially eligible seniors and disabled homeowners. That represents a nearly 50 percent increase in a year and a half.

The data from the ACS were invaluable to us and helped many low-income homeowners. I will never forget the older postal worker who came up to me, saying that he had just received his exemption, and that he could finally heave a sigh of relief that he was going to be able to stay in his home.