Property Tax Breaks for the Highest Market Value Properties and the Wealthiest 1%
TRAEN, Inc. Exemption Study Finds Cook County Homeowners with $3.0 - $5.8 million Homes Approved for Significant Property Tax Relief on 2nd installment Tax Bills through Senior Assessment Freeze and Long-Time Occupancy Exemptions
TRAEN, Inc. examined two of Cook County’s income-based property tax exemptions—the Long-Time Homeowner Exemption and the Senior Freeze Exemption—to uncover misuses that warrant annual audits and the issuance of Erroneous Exemption Notices. TRAEN urges that an audit be conducted before the automatic rollover of approximately 160,000 Senior Freeze Exemption applicants in 2020, as prescribed by SB 685 (PA 101-0635).
The study highlights a shift away from the aims of income-based tax breaks, which are intended to give tax relief to our most vulnerable seniors and longtime homeowners threatened by gentrification. The report urges increases in funding and experienced staffing to enable the Cook County Assessor’s Office to conduct annual audits of $1.8 billion in tax exemptions.
The legislature has authorized exemption audits in Cook County by the end of 2021 and 2023. However, best practices in the private sector should be implemented in annual property tax audits. Yearly audits to detect Erroneous Exemptions require few IT resources as proved by TRAEN’s methodology of cross checking tax PINs, classifications, taxpayer names, and market and tax assessment exemption values to discover errors, and determine that thousands of tax breaks continue to be given to the wealthiest 1% of Cook County homeowners with half-million to multimillion-dollar homes, and to residential properties that include profitable commercial units.
TRAEN, Inc. found multimillion-dollar homes receiving two types of exemptions based on incomes capped at $65,000 or $100,000. The lack of stronger exemption statute language allows both Senior Freeze and Long-Time Occupancy exemption tax breaks to be applied to commercial portions of a principal residence. Unqualified homeowners have been issued tax breaks through exemptions that reduce the property taxes owed on their primary residence, thus unfairly shifting the tax burden.
In 2014, the Erroneous Exemption law and the passage of stronger exemption awareness laws initiated by TRAEN, Inc. gave the Cook County Assessor authorization to issue penalties and liens on homeowners with 2 or more unqualified exemptions on their homes. Since 2014, more than $8,000,000 in fines and liens levied on taxpayers with unqualified exemptions have yet to be collected.
The study recommends best practices and legislative changes that could save up to $17 million in misappropriated property tax exemptions meant for the most vulnerable senior citizens on incomes of $65,000 or less and for longtime homeowners whose tax bills were unpredictable and escalating due to redevelopment in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Click Here to download a PDF of the TRAEN study Race and Wealth Inequities in Cook County’s Property Tax Relief Programs: The Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze & Long-time Occupant Homestead Exemptions
Click Here to download a PDF of the exhibits referenced in the TRAEN study
Click Here to download Chicago Sun Times article "‘Senior freeze’ tax program riddled with errors, lax oversight, Sun-Times finds"
Click Here to download Chicago Sun Times article "Why is Cook County freezing property tax assessments for seniors who are doing fine?"