Officials with the Durham County Department of Social Services this week announced the launching of a new program that aims to relieve the tax burden on the city and county’s low-income homeowners.

The initiative addresses two goals of the city’s 2016-2021 five-year affordable housing plan by maintaining affordability and protecting low-income Durham residents living in neighborhoods “experiencing significant price appreciation” as a consequence of gentrification exacerbated by an acute housing shortage, according to the city’s website.

The tax relief initiative, called the Low-Income Homeowners Relief Program (LIHR), is solely for Durham residents who have owned their home for 10 years or more and are not currently receiving any state tax subsidies for their property, according to a DSS press release on Thursday.

The online portal to apply for the LIHR program is scheduled to go live early next month, according to the release.

Although city and county officials say their initial focus is on Southside and northeast central Durham, the bigger aim is “to make affordable housing a citywide priority.”

The five-year affordable housing plan notes that “on any given night, approximately 750 Durham residents are homeless, including single adults and families with children. 

“Although Durham is a relatively affordable city overall, prices are rising, particularly in central city neighborhoods, as a result of continuing population growth and a shift in consumer preferences towards living in or near the downtown area,” according to an executive summary of the five-year plan. “As a result, neighborhoods that had previously been relatively affordable are experiencing rapid escalation in rent and sales prices.”

Eligible homeowners must have incomes that are 30 percent of the average median income. The maximum financial reward will be $750, may only be applied to current tax bills, and will be paid directly to the Durham County tax office. 

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