East Austin zip code has most tax delinquent properties

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Pablo Baltazar is 67 years old. He lives with his brother in the same east Austin house where he grew up.

He says his next-door neighbor fell behind on her taxes and wasn’t so fortunate.

“She’s living with her son,” Baltazar said. “I wish somebody would help her. She’s on dialysis, man.”

It’s a common problem in the rapidly gentrifying zip code of 78702, where there are more tax-delinquent properties than any other zip code in Austin.

“A lot of people are going in and paying a half-million dollars and tearing down the property, and putting up what they want,” said Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector. “That puts pressure on people who have moderate incomes.”

The zip code has 357 delinquent properties. The total amount owed is $3,376,497.

A total of 73% are residential properties, but a good number of the top delinquent properties are vacant lots.

“They don’t want this house,” Baltazar said, gesturing to his home. “They want the land.”

The city of Austin does not and cannot legally have a program that helps directly pay off homeowners’ property taxes, but does plan on more outreach in the east Austin area to let people know what exemptions are available to them.

They say $200,000 was allocated for the outreach program, a recommendation by the city’s Anti-Displacement Task Force and other groups.

Leaders with the city’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department tell KXAN many lower-income homeowners don’t take advantage of the Homestead Exemption, which homeowners can apply for annually to reduce their property tax bill.

The city also plans to continue offering Go Repair grants — up to $20,000 for home repairs.

That may ease the burden for some, but Baltazar sees a complete change in his neighborhood as inevitable.

“They’re going to take them all,” he said. “All of this is gone.”

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