Sep 8, 2023 - News

Richmond reconsiders tax collection policies after threatening homeowners with tax auction

Illustration of a paper with the word "due" torn into shreds.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

City officials say they're working to develop more compassionate tax collection policies after threatening to auction 21 owner-occupied homes over unpaid bills.

What's happening: One change would allow homeowners to enroll in existing relief programs for elderly and disabled residents even if they are behind on their taxes, per chief administrative officer Lincoln Saunders.

  • Currently the city requires residents to be caught up on their bills to receive the benefit, meaning tax bills will continue to pile up while they attempt to catch up.

Zoom in: Saunders said the city is also considering changes to the repayment plans currently offered by the city's Finance Department, which in the case of one 70-year-old resident required her to repay more than $20,000 in two years.

  • The resident, who spoke to Axios on the condition that she not be named discussing her financial difficulties, said she felt she had no choice but to accept the plan.
  • To meet the terms, she said she took out a loan to be able to afford the initial $3,000 down payment and is seeking a job to help cover the coming $800-a-month payments.

Flashback: Saunders had previously told Axios the resident could have negotiated a longer repayment period, but the Finance Department later told her that was not possible.

Worth noting: City Council members and Mayor Stoney's office said they were unaware of the issue prior to Axios' reporting.

  • The notices sent by the Finance Department marked a sudden departure from a longstanding informal policy within the city of not targeting owner-occupied homes for tax auctions.

What we're watching: Some council members urged city administrators to go further.

  • Councilwoman Ellen Robertson called for a more wide-ranging review of the city's administrative policies, which she called unnecessarily punitive.
  • Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch said she'll push state lawmakers to allow the city to apply elderly tax relief retroactively.

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