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Village hosts experts on coping with 'tax shock'

By Jackie Lupo

IRVINGTON — The Irvington Housing Committee was formed in 2013 with the mission of making, and keeping, housing in Irvington accessible to moderate-income residents, including seniors and the disabled. The committee’s mission took on a new note of urgency this year, when many resident found themselves facing large real estate tax increases in the wake of the townwide property reassessment. Many wondered how people of limited means could afford to stay in their homes.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, the Village and the housing committee hosted an event at the public library, where a panel of experts presented “Strategies for Coping with Property Tax Shock.” The audience, composed mostly of seniors, heard ways that property owners could lower their tax bills, raise money from their home equity, or use their homes as a source of rental income.

John Wolham of the New York State Office of Real Property Tax Services outlined a variety of tax exemptions available to property owners. An exemption works by lowering the taxpayer’s assessment by a specific percentage, which varies by the type of exemption. As the assessed value goes down, the resulting tax is lowered. Some of these exemptions are administered by the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance, such as the STAR (School Tax Relief) Credit and the Enhanced STAR, which offers greater savings for senior citizens.

Other programs are administered by the Town of Greenburgh, such as exemptions for senior citizens, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and long-term volunteers at local fire and ambulance companies. It’s important to note that none of these exemptions is granted automatically; each one must be applied for separately and each has different eligibility requirements, such as income and age limits. The Town of Greenburgh Assessor’s Office (phone 993-1520) has information about applying for local exemptions.

Wolham said exemptions could help people lower their assessments, which would in turn lower their taxes. But, he said, making sure your assessment is correct is “probably the most direct thing you, as property owners, can do to make sure your taxes are fair.” He acknowledged that Greenburgh had not reassessed since 1958 and some taxpayers disagree that their new assessment reflects their home’s true market value. “If the assessment roll doesn’t reflect an accurate value for your, and everybody else’s, property, then people won’t be paying the right amount,” he said.

Wolham reviewed the steps that taxpayers could take to be sure their assessments are correct, starting with a meeting with the Town Assessor, and, if necessary, filing a grievance and ultimately bringing suit in real estate small claims court.

Reverse mortgages can be a way for seniors on fixed incomes who are “house rich” but “cash poor,” to generate funds by tapping the equity in their homes.

John Baker, senior housing and reverse mortgage counselor at Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO), a nonprofit organization that provides housing counseling to county residents, provided a basic introduction to the complex topic of reverse mortgages. These financial products are frequently advertised to senior citizens, but they may not be suitable for everyone.

“A reverse mortgage is a way to access part of your equity, a percentage based on your age [which must be at least 62], the value of your home, and how much you owe on your mortgage,” he explained. The amount of money borrowed, plus interest, must be paid back from the estate when the last living owner dies, or by the owner if the property is sold. Baker said funds drawn from a reverse mortgage are tax free, and can be taken on various schedules, ranging from lump-sum payments to monthly payouts.

There are various reverse mortgage products on the market, each carrying certain fees and interest rates, and it’s important for prospective borrowers to understand that those payments also reduce a homeowner’s equity. Baker said people applying for a reverse mortgage are required to attend a counseling session and are encouraged to bring not only all the owners on the home’s title, but also their heirs and financial advisers.

Village Trustee Janice Silverberg, who chaired the Irvington Housing Committee before her election to the village board, discussed how homeowners could generate income by becoming “landlords,” either by taking in a border, renting out an accessory apartment, or modifying an existing in-law suite to meet the stricter requirements of an accessory apartment.

While much of the material covered by the other speakers was relevant to any New York resident, Silverberg stressed that the details she was describing about renting space in one’s own home are specific to Irvington.

Village code allows owners of single-family homes to rent a maximum of one room to a boarder. Silverberg suggested contacting Jason Alt, assistant dean of students at Mercy College ( to inquire about renting a room to a Mercy student. Another possibility is to rent a room to a foreign student who is in the U.S. to learn English. For more information, contact Danielle Furfaro at EF International Language Center in Tarrytown ( WRO also conducts a program called “Project Share” that matches up senior homeowners with renters of various ages.

In 2016, Irvington passed laws permitting in-law apartments and accessory apartments. These two types of apartments are not subject to the same building code requirements. Accessory apartments are considered separate dwelling units (whether they’re located in the main house or in an outbuilding); they must have their own bathroom and kitchen facilities, and are subject to specific health, safety, and New York State Residential Building Code design requirements. They may be used as income-producing units.

On the other hand, village code defines in-law apartments as being for the use of the owner’s family members or caregivers, not as rental units. They are not considered separate dwelling units, although they may contain kitchen facilities. They must be located within the house, not in a separate structure. Extensive modification of an existing in-law suite would probably be necessary to make it qualify as a rentable accessory apartment. More specific information about the two categories of apartments can be found on Irvington’s website, or by contacting the Village of Irvington Building Department at 591-8335.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

November 10, 2016

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