By State Representative Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain)
November 7, 2023 marks the date of the DeKalb County property tax sale, a pressing question emerges: What is the public gain in selling the homes of 16-17 senior citizens, whose property tax debt totals over $17,000, when their collective properties are valued at over $3,700,000? In a time when conversations regarding social responsibility, the well-being of our elderly citizens, and the common good are central to our societal dialogue, it is crucial to closely examine the potential outcomes of these actions.
The heart of the matter lies in the stark contrast between the meager amount of property tax debt owed by these seniors and the substantial value of their properties. With property tax debts averaging below $2,000, and the lowest amount standing at a mere $766.32, one cannot help but question the wisdom and ethics of selling their homes to recoup these relatively modest sums.
I have spoken with religious organizations and non-profit organizations about methods of saving seniors’ homes. I created a “Save a Senior’s Home” campaign in an effort to help seniors in need of assistance. Additionally, I am in the process of developing a coalition aimed at improving state laws to help seniors stay in their homes, especially when the debt is under $2,000 and with escalating property tax assessments.
The essence of the public benefit and the common good must be considered when evaluating the consequences of such a tax sale. It is evident that selling these senior citizens’ homes will not significantly impact the county’s finances, given the relatively small debt owed. However, the repercussions for the affected seniors are far-reaching and distressing.
Here are some key repercussions:
- Disruption of lives: For many of these seniors, their homes are not just pieces of real estate; they are repositories of lifetime memories and comfort. Being uprooted from their homes can have severe emotional and psychological consequences. The disruption to their lives is a substantial cost that goes beyond mere financial considerations.
- Community stability: Selling these homes can also destabilize communities. When seniors are forced to leave their neighborhoods, it can lead to a sense of abandonment among neighbors and a loss of community cohesion. The resulting vacancies may also impact property values for the remaining residents.
- Long-term costs: While the immediate gain may appear attractive, the long-term costs of displacing these seniors should not be overlooked. The burden on social services, health care and affordable housing programs may increase as these seniors face difficulties finding suitable alternatives.
- Moral and ethical concerns: Selling the homes of elderly citizens with relatively low property tax debt raises moral and ethical questions. It challenges our societal commitment to protecting vulnerable populations and prioritizing the well-being of our seniors.
In light of these considerations, it is crucial for DeKalb County to reevaluate the decision to sell these senior exempt properties. Exploring alternative solutions, such as establishing payment plans or offering tax relief programs, could serve the public interest while preserving the dignity and well-being of our senior citizens.
It is incumbent upon us, as a society, to find a balance between fiscal responsibility and compassion for our elderly citizens. Our actions should reflect our commitment to the common good and the principles of justice and fairness that underpin our democratic values. In this case, the path forward should lead to a solution that respects the homes, lives, well-being and dignity of our seniors, rather than simply focusing on the recovery of a modest property tax debt.
Representative Viola Davis represents the citizens of District 87, which includes portions of DeKalb County. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2018 and currently serves on the Defense & Veterans Affairs, Insurance, Interstate Cooperation, Natural Resources & Environment and Urban Affairs committees.