When John Wilson became a King County, Washington assessor two years ago, housing affordability was headed in a downward spiral, especially for the county’s low-income senior citizens, the disabled and disabled veterans.
To help older residents, the state provides a property tax exemption for homeowners over the age of 61 who are on fixed or low incomes. According to the 2017 American Community Survey (ACS) one-year Estimates, King County is home to 362,157 residents age 62 and over.
“We thought that King County’s enrollment level was low,” Wilson said, but he didn’t have the numbers to back up his hunch. “(So) we turned to the ACS to identify how many potential applicants were in King County and where they might be located.”
Wilson, along with King County demographer Chandler Felt and county epidemiologist Susan Kinne, used ACS Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) files to conduct a customized inquiry that met the program’s eligibility criteria.
PUMS files contain a small sample of individual records, with identifying information removed, from the ACS that show the population and housing characteristics of the people included on those forms.
Data Tells Stories
After analyzing the data, they found there were 40,000 households that were eligible for the tax exemption, but only 15,000 households were actually enrolled in the program. The team then put together an outreach plan based on the ACS data with the goal 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,” Wilson said.
After 18 months, Wilson’s department brought in almost 7,500 new applications from potentially eligible seniors and disabled 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,” Wilson said.
Kimberley Glascoe is a public affairs specialist at the Census Bureau.