The City of San Antonio plans to host free workshops to help residents reduce their property tax bills, as well as access a number of other services designed to keep people in their homes.

The sessions will help residents apply for a homestead exemption and provide coaching for residents who want to challenge their property appraisals before the mid-May deadline for doing so.

The city plans to hold 14 sessions before May, Veronica Garcia, director of the city’s Neighborhood & Housing Services Department, told members of a council committee Thursday. The dates and locations have not been released yet, but there is to be at least one session in each council district.

Funding for this kind of assistance was added to the city’s budget after San Antonio and Bexar County increased their homestead exemptions in response to skyrocketing property valuations last year.

The homestead exemption is designed to keep property taxes lower for homeowners who actually live in their homes, by allowing them to pay taxes only on a reduced appraised value. San Antonio also increased its exemptions for people with disabilities and homeowners 65 and older.

“We really want to make a strong effort to make sure individuals know that these are out there, if they qualify for them, and actually provide direct service to help them file for these exemptions,” Garcia said.

The Legislature also is exploring property tax relief measures that could involve increasing the state’s homestead exemption.

Once a homeowner has an application for a homestead exemption on file, savings from the various taxing entities with exemptions are automatically applied to the property tax bill each year. But the Bexar County tax assessor-collector’s office estimates roughly 90,000 Bexar County homeowners who qualify for the exemption haven’t submitted an application.

“These will be done on-site on a first-come, first-served basis,” Garcia said of the city’s assistance with the application process. “And if we’re getting full that day,” people can “make an appointment to get help later on” or over the phone.

The deadline to apply for and document a homestead exemption for this year is April 30.

Garcia said the sessions will be held with the help of experts such as the San Antonio Legal Services Association and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. Those experts can offer help on challenging appraisals, a more complicated path to reducing property tax bills that can involve an in-person hearing.

Additionally, Garcia said the city plans to offer information on free income tax preparation services and bring in experts in eviction prevention, as well as staff from the Bexar County tax assessor-collector’s office who can help residents apply for assistance with overdue rent and mortgage payments.

“People are coming for property tax information, but they’ll be able to get information on how the city can help them make sure they file their income taxes for free,” Garcia said.

“Frequently when we have these sessions, people just have other city questions,” Garcia said. “To help our team focus on providing the property tax information, we’ll have separate staff helping them with any of the other types of questions they may have.”

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Andrea Drusch

Andrea Drusch writes about local government for the San Antonio Report. She's covered politics in Washington, D.C., and Texas for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, National Journal and Politico.