Are you a homeowner who is concerned about the cost of home maintenance or repairs? Are you worried about paying your property taxes or where you will find the funds to accommodate increasing costs on a fixed income? Are you finding it difficult to keep up with your mortgage payment? You are not alone. About 29% of senior homeowners in Washington are “cost-burdened,” which means they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs. The good news is that help is available.

Owner-occupied repair assistance, property tax exemptions, loan modifications, and yes, even reverse mortgages can help you continue to enjoy your home despite limited resources. Read on for more information about these programs. Then, call the statewide, toll-free Homeownership Hotline at 1-877-894-HOME to get connected to the best resources for you based on your specific needs and circumstances.

Owner-Occupied Repair Assistance

Owner-occupied repair assistance is available across the state to low-income homeowners. If your home needs accessibility modifications, serious repairs, or energy-efficiency improvements and you are low-income, a repair program may be able to help you. Many programs focus on seniors, but some also help veterans, households with children under 18, people with disabilities, or spouses of deceased veterans. The programs are usually run by non-profits, city government, or county government, and can provide a grant, low-cost loan, or matching funds to help you with minor or major repairs needed to keep your home safe and energy efficient. The types of repairs available vary from program to program, but some examples include: wheelchair ramp and grab bar installation, roof replacement, septic tank replacement, plumbing and electrical work, window repair or replacement, and yard clean-up. A call to the Homeownership Hotline can help you find out if there is a program in your area and learn how to apply.

Property Tax Exemption and/or Deferral

Washington State law mandates four programs to help homeowners lower their property tax bills. For any of these programs, you must own the home and it must be your primary residence, though there are some exceptions for extended hospital stays, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes. All of the programs look at your household income as well as your age, disability status, or veteran’s status to determine eligibility. The most widely used is the Property Tax Exemption for Senior Citizens and Disabled Persons. If your annual income is $40,000 or less AND you are 61 or older, have a disability that prevents you from working, or are a veteran with a service-connected disability, you may qualify to have your property taxes significantly reduced. The reduction stays with you and your property for as long as you live in the home and never needs to be repaid. Application to this program can be made retroactively to get you a refund on previous tax bills, so if you are over 61 and think you may qualify, do not delay in contacting the Hotline! There is also a Property Tax Assistance Program for Widows and Widowers of Veterans, which is designed to supplement the exemption program and provides additional payment assistance.

If you don’t qualify for the exemption program, there are also two deferral programs: the Property Tax Deferral for Senior Citizens and Disabled Persons and the Property Tax Deferral for Homeowners with Limited Income. The latter is available to homeowners based on disposable income regardless of age, veteran status, or disability status. Deferral requires repayment with interest when the home is no longer your primary residence.

Hotline staff can help you understand which of these programs may be a fit for you and connect you with a housing counselor or your County Assessor’s Office for help with the application.

Reverse Mortgage

Home Equity Conversion Reverse Mortgages – usually shortened to “HECM loan” or “reverse mortgage” – are loans that convert your home’s equity into cash with no monthly mortgage payments. A reverse mortgage can be a great help to seniors age 62 or older who need income after retirement, but there are significant points to consider before deciding if a reverse mortgage is right for you.

For example, even though you will have no mortgage payments with a reverse mortgage, you are still responsible for paying your property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. If you fall behind on either, your reverse mortgage lender may begin a foreclosure process. Additionally, a reverse mortgage is a loan and must be paid back, with interest, when the home is no longer your primary residence. Typically, this means that your heirs or your surviving spouse will need to sell the property to repay the loan.

Because of the complexity of this decision, the federal government requires all homeowners interested in a reverse mortgage to receive specialized counseling. The Homeownership Hotline can connect you to a certified HECM Reverse Mortgage Counselor so you can make sure you understand all the implications before signing a contract.

Loan Modification and Mediation

If you are having trouble paying your mortgage and have received a Notice of Pre-Foreclosure Options, a Notice of Default, or a Notice of Trustee’s Sale, call the Homeownership Hotline right away. The Hotline can help you take advantage of your rights under Washington State foreclosure law and connect you to a housing counselor at a HUD-approved counseling agency or low-to-no-cost legal aid. Homeowners who work with a lawyer or housing counselor to negotiate with their lender have better outcomes than homeowners who go it alone, so there is no reason to wait to call the Hotline. Start working with an expert as soon as you can.

About Washington Homeownership Resource Center

Formed in 1996 with a mission to “increase and preserve homeownership in Washington State,” the Washington Homeownership Resource Center is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization that connects homeowners with vetted, low-to-no-cost resources via our statewide, toll-free Homeownership Hotline and our online Homeowner Assistance Portal. The Hotline was mandated by state law in 2011 and gets approximately 500-600 calls every month from struggling homeowners. It connects callers to mortgage default counseling, HECM Reverse mortgage counseling, legal aid, tax foreclosure assistance, owner-occupied repair assistance, debt management counseling, and other supports. Concerned about the increasing number of calls from seniors, WHRC has been engaging with the AARP, state legislators, County officials, and other partners to make sure consumer protections for senior homeowners are strong and that seniors know about the resources available to them. Our experienced and knowledgeable Hotline staff are available to answer your questions from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday.