With a down-ballot measure overshadowed by the mayoral contest, city council races, and, of course, baseball, Atlanta homeowners quietly secured a tax break that was set to expire at the end of the year.
The Atlanta School Homestead Exemption, which was architected by state lawmakers with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) Board of Education backing, passed with support from the vast majority of voters—more than 80 percent of the nearly 90,000 votes tallied in Fulton and DeKalb counties.
Under the rule, eligible property owners receive an abatement from the APS chunk of their tax bill for $50,000 of their home’s assessed value, assuming they pay taxes on at least $10,000 of that value.
The purpose of homestead exemptions is to provide some relief to homeowners who are faced with spiking property taxes year after year.
“We recognized that with housing values going up and taxes going up, some kind of relief was needed,” said APS board chairman Jason Esteves. “The homestead tax exemption, while not the most equitable way of doing it, is certainly much better than reducing the millage rate as a whole.”
Based on the current millage rates—a metric used to calculate property tax liability—a typical Atlanta homeowner saves about $415 annually in property taxes, according to Sorenson Law, a team of tax attorneys.
Still, for many, this slight tax break—as well as the other, similar homestead exemptions offered by Fulton County and the City of Atlanta—is a drop in the bucket in the pursuit of housing affordability.
“Maybe a future iteration could be more generous to homeowners,” said Sarah Kirsch, executive director of Urban Land Institute Atlanta and member of advocacy group HouseATL. “Doing a much more significant homestead exemption could ensure that the tax burden is not what displaces people.”
Homestead exemptions also don’t do much for renters, Kirsch added. “In theory, those savings could be passed on [from landlords to tenants],” she said. But that’s unlikely, and the discount would probably be negligible.
Nevertheless, had the measure not been approved by voters this week, Esteves said, many homeowners—especially lower-income ones—could be that much more strained by their tax bill. “We’re certainly happy to see this pass,” he said.