Columbus, IN–After a 12-year appeal process, on June 29, 2018, the Indiana Board of Tax Review (IBTR) issued its final determination, stating that Housing Partnerships, Inc.’s (HPI) ownership of scattered-site housing qualifies for property tax exemption. The county assessor’s office has decided to appeal the IBTR’s decision.

The cost of the assessor’s appeal on the community will be significant. HPI may be forced by this delay to sell an additional 11 affordable homes to pay off debt taken out to pay the county for taxes which should never have been collected. These home sales will not only further decrease the availability of affordable housing in our community, but will also displace 11 families (15 adults, 12 children) with an average income of $26, 695.

More significantly, seven of these families are single-parent homes with a total of 9 children and an average income of $21 270. These families will struggle to find affordable housing that will meet their budgetary needs based on their income. In addition, both HPI and the county (the taxpayers) will incur additional legal expenses because of this appeal.

The shortage of safe, affordable housing in Columbus has been documented for decades. Each day that this chronic housing shortage affects our community, some families are unable to pay for basic needs due to high housing costs, move out of domestic violence situations, successfully overcome addictions, or transition to the community from institutional facilities.

During these crises, people are unable to contribute their skills and talents to our community, and our entire community is diminished as a result. HPI has been the answer for people in all of these situations, yet the safe, affordable housing they need may be in jeopardy because of the latest appeal from our county assessor.

Since 1989, HPI, now part of Thrive Alliance, has worked alongside local elected officials, local business, and hundreds of volunteers to build safe, affordable, and decent housing in and around Columbus. Working together, HPI has attracted over $14 million in grants and an estimated $35 million in private investments and has created over 500 safe, affordable homes. These homes have served lower-income families and residents with special-needs including seniors, people with disabilities, survivors of domestic violence, single-parent families, and families affected by addiction.

HPI has been able to support these families and others because of the 2002 and 2004 determinations by the Bartholomew County Assessor that HPI’s rental housing program qualified for property tax exemption. In reliance on that determination, HPI in good faith made long-term investments in safe, affordable, and decent housing.

In 2006, the Assessor reversed the previous determinations and the county began collecting taxes on HPI properties, destroying the financial model HPI was locked into. HPI’s only logical course of action was to appeal the exemption denial. During the lengthy appeals process, HPI was forced for the first time in its history to sell homes to meet the tax burden, and has taken out extensive loans to pay the large tax debt that has been collected by the county.

Finally, in 2018, IBRT issued a final determination concluding that “HPI proved that its scattered-site housing was owned and exclusively occupied and used for charitable purposes” and ordered that “HPI be granted an exemption for those parcels for each year under appeal.” “HPI has proven that our rental program does, in fact, qualify for property tax exemption as the county assessor’s office originally determined,” states Mark Lindenlaub, Executive Director. “I hope the county assessor will reconsider the decision to appeal. If they decide to accept the tax board’s decision, we can continue to work together to increase, rather than decrease, safe affordable housing in Columbus.”