Austin LGBT Coalition on Aging Newsletter
Hope this newsletter finds you enjoying the Austin summer while managing to stay cool. Mindful of our mission statement, Improving the condition of the LGBT community through advocacy, education and programs/services, we’ve focused this newsletter on keeping Coalition members informed of our efforts to advocate on behalf of LGBT seniors in Austin. We currently have Coalition members serving on the City of Austin Commission on Seniors as well as the City’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Commission, the board of AustinUp, and several of the Age-Friendly Austin domain workgroups. Participation in these organizations allows us to ensure that the LGBT perspective is included in their discussions. It also allows us to keep you better informed of ongoing discussions and recommendations and gives you the opportunity to weigh in with your thoughts.
LGBTQ Community Center
One project of recurring interest to the Austin LGBTQ community has been a community center. It was high on the list of suggestions at the Coalition’s very first meeting and was prioritized into a broader category of activities under Building a Sense of Community. Over the years there have been a number of proposals:
- some similar to the efforts of the African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American communities in developing cultural/community centers with the assistance of City of Austin funding both for construction and ongoing operations;
- other proposals have had varying degrees of independent financing with more limited scope (meeting spaces, recreational activities, organizational support).
Neither the City’s current budget discussions nor the current bond election proposal include funding for an LGBTQ community center.
The Coalition’s initial decision was to stay informed and provide support where appropriate to the organizations developing proposals but to put our immediate focus on providing activities and opportunities for socializing as a strategy for building community.
A new proposal was presented to the City’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Commission at their June meeting by Clayton Gibson from the Qwell Foundation (for additional information on the Qwell Foundation see qwellaustin.org). This proposal suggests standalone neighborhood centers (at least one in each of the ten Council districts).
These centers, dubbed Austin OUTPOSTs, would be located in existing buildings, vacant commercial or other use, and could be temporary rather than long term, i.e. the centers might relocate as necessary to take advantage of available space. The City owns some properties that may be ideal, and some landlords have already offered free retail space for an OUTPOST.
The concept is for the centers to be “storefronts” for visibility rather than located within another entity (such as a church or activity center). They could provide meeting or activity spaces for organizations, support groups, and referrals, as well as service delivery (if funds were available to pay for service delivery costs).
OUTPOSTs would be managed and operated by volunteers. Funding for OUTPOSTs would come from donations from the community. Advocates for this approach suggest that the decentralized and “temporary” nature of the OUTPOST concept would help build experience in outreach and community organizing and provide evidence of the support for a more permanent approach. LGBTQ people could access support and referral services in a neighborhood community center without having to travel across town.
The OUTPOST presentation was on the Commission’s agenda as a discussion item only with no proposed action. Members of the Commission suggested opening all OUTPOSTs at once, instead of opening piecemeal in each neighborhood as donations came through. There was also a recognition of the challenges involved in raising the necessary donations.
City Property Tax
The Housing Domain Workgroup on the City’s Age-Friendly Plan has been looking at alternatives for reducing the property tax burden for seniors, particularly those with low incomes at risk of have to give up their homes in neighborhoods with rapidly escalating property values. Their discussions have raised concerns that some seniors may not be taking advantage of all of the options already available to them. City, county and school districts offer over-65 exemptions in addition to homestead exemptions that reduce the value used for calculating the property taxes owed. However, these exemptions may not be automatically or accurately entered on property tax records.
There are several governmental entities involved in the property taxes you pay which adds to the potential for confusion about taxes owed:
- the governing bodies of the City of Austin, Travis County and each school district (as well as a number of special purpose districts) determine the tax rate that is applied to the appraised value of property as well as the exemptions allowed (within state law);
- the Travis County Appraisal District determines the appraised value of property ;
- the Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector takes the tax rate for each entity, applies it to the appraised value and sends out tax bills and collects tax payments.
Currently the Travis County Appraisal District and the Travis County Tax Assessor Collector office team up to present a number of town halls in the community on property tax and exemption information. The Appraisal District sends a post card every fall to residential property owners that are not claiming a homestead exemption. They also include an application for the homestead exemption when they mail out appraisal notices (both are in English without Spanish translation). It may be difficult to determine the accuracy of the exemptions that are included in the appraised value. The Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector does not include exemption information in the property tax bills they mail out.
If you are 65 or older or have a friend or relative that is and have questions about these exemptions you should contact the Appraisal District and ask them to walk you through the calculations to make sure you are receiving the correct exemptions.
There are other property tax benefits that may be appropriate for some seniors including tax deferrals. The Housing Domain Workgroup is looking at the possibility of providing financial planning and tax seminars for seniors.
If you have financial issues, concerns or suggestions please let us know by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
We will use the information submitted (without including names) to inform the workgroup discussion and keep you posted on any updates.
City Bonds for Home Repair
In their May meeting the City’s LGBTQ Quality of Life Commission joined with the Commission on Seniors in recommending to the City Council that the allocation for home repairs in the proposed November bond election be increased from $13 million to $26 million. The City’s Bond Advisory Committee had doubled the staff’s proposed bonds for affordable housing without increasing the allocation for the home repair bonds. These bonds have been a primary source of funding for low income seniors needing repairs or home modifications in order to age in their own homes.
Aging in place is of particular importance to LGBT seniors. The national survey recently released by AARP (and available on our website, ALGBTCOA.org) showed that long term care facilities were one of the three biggest concerns of LGBT Americans age 45-plus.
The recommendation goes to the Austin City Council which will make their final decision on the November bond package in August.
Reminder: Don’t miss the two upcoming fun events sponsored by our partners, the LGBT Elder Task Force:
Thursday, July 26 Potluck, 6:30-8:30pm, 502 East Highland Mall Blvd. Look for the door with the rainbow.
Friday, July 27, Full Moon Swim, 7:30-9pm, Barton Springs Pool (shallow end)