District by District: Homestead Exemptions

Last month, Austin City Council voted to increase the property tax homestead exemption from 6% to 8%.

Homestead exemptions, which limit the taxable value of a homeowner’s property, are the stuff of controversy in Austin. On the one hand, raising the homestead exemption reduces funds for city services to the benefit of homeowners. But if you own a home in Austin, you’re no doubt feeling the squeeze of Austin’s dramatically increasing land values.

There’s been plenty of reporting on the topic of property tax exemptions, but we keep seeing the same handful of statistics in nearly every article. (Probably because the gatekeeper of Austin’s property tax data does a miserable job of making it publicly available).

I’ve been wondering how the number of homestead exemptions and property values compare across Austin’s council districts, so I created this handy chart. You can hover/touch each bar to view its datapoint.

Homestead exemptions by council district in Austin, TX. Source: TCAD

The chart highlights the differences in neighborhood composition across districts. For example, District 8 has roughly three times as many homesteads as Districts 3, 4, and 6. We can also look at the percentage of homes with exemptions to get a sense of owner occupancy rates in each district. Here, Districts 6, 8, and 10 jump out as each having more than 80% of homes with exemptions.

It’s also worth noting that while District 1 has a relatively large number of homesteads (12,000), the percentage of homesteads (68%) is on the low end. District 1 probably has the largest number of single-family home renters in the city.

The mayor has argued that homestead exemptions are progressive, because “cutting [property] taxes by a set percentage benefits homeowners more the lower they fall on the income scale.” I don’t disagree, but this chart emphasizes just how small those savings are—as low as $13/year on average for a District 2 resident. Bear in mind, of course, that this is the second increase in the homestead exemption in two years, and it probably won’t be the last.

As usual, a few caveats. The data we’re looking at includes only single-family dwellings in Travis County. Median home values are based on the appraised value of each property, while the average annual savings is based on the assessed value. Here’s my data (6MB).

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Source: Travis County Appraisal District