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A property tax exemption for manufactured homes will benefit vulnerable residents, officials say.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Multnomah County has adopted a property tax exemption for manufactured homes with values at or less than $50,000.Nearly 5,000 owners of manufactured homes in Multnomah County will qualify for relief from rising housing costs on their future tax bills.

The county board of commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday, Sept. 22, to adopt a resolution creating a property tax exemption for manufactured homes valued at or less than $50,000.

Manufactured homes are factory-built houses that are typically transported to rentable land. They generally cost less than other houses, but buying one makes it taxable property under state law.

With high rents for apartments and home prices still through the roof, manufactured homes are a key affordable housing option, especially amid an ongoing homelessness crisis, commissioners said.

But the rising value of many manufactured homes is creating an increasingly untenable tax burden for their owners, who are more likely to be people of color, speak primarily Spanish, have lower incomes or be single parents, said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal, who brought the resolution to the board with Commissioner Lori Stegmann.

"While it's clear that we need to increase our housing supply, it's also clear that we need to keep the affordable housing that we do have affordable," Jayapal said. "We're lowering taxes for the people who need that relief the most."

The resolution exempts owners of manufactured homes from paying any property taxes on the first $50,000 of their home's value. They will only pay taxes on home value above that amount. For example, if a manufactured home is valued at $50,001, the owner will only pay taxes on $1.

Previously, property taxes were canceled for manufactured homes with values at or less than $38,000. That provision dates back to 2009, when Chair Deborah Kafoury, a county commissioner at the time, worked with state legislators to implement the tax code change.

Then, in 2019, Stegmann worked to pass House Bill 2949, which allowed counties with a population of 570,000 or more — Multnomah and Washington counties — to set their own tax exemption thresholds up to $50,000 for manufactured homes. The bill set the stage for the board's action Thursday.

There are currently 4,917 mobile homes in Multnomah County, says Michael Vaughn, the county assessor. Of those, 3,016 had property taxes canceled during the 2021-22 tax year because their value was at or less than $38,000. The average value of a manufactured home is $40,740, with the median value about $29,000, Vaughn said.

Before the resolution was adopted Thursday, if a manufactured home's value was above $38,000, the homeowner had to pay the full property tax bill. Depending on the location, the tax bill could be as much as $1,000, according to Vaughn.

Stegmann emphasized how important that money is for manufactured home owners in Multnomah County, whose median income is $38,000. She added that there's a high concentration of manufactured home parks in East County, which she represents as the District 4 commissioner.

Since 2020, 72 manufactured homes have moved over the $38,000 threshold, losing the property tax cancellation, according to Vaughn.

The resolution adopted Thursday makes another 726 manufactured homes exempt from property taxes. Vaughn added that the resolution is forward-looking as the values of some manufactured homes continue to rise.

The new tax exemption means the county will lose $350,000 in tax revenue per year. Up to $3 million in tax revenue annually will not be collected across all taxing districts affected by the exemption.

Taylor Steenblock, who works in the county's Office of Government Relations, previously reached out to more than 50 special taxing districts and local governments affected by the change. Officials from the taxing districts reportedly did not express concerns.

"It seems a lot of people in those districts and governments understand the impact that the increase in (property) value is having on these families," Steenblock told the board during a briefing Tuesday, Sept. 20.

Cameron Herrington, program manager at the nonprofit Living Cully Coalition, submitted written testimony supporting the resolution.

"Mobile home parks provide some of the most affordable housing in Multnomah County," Herrington wrote. "This measure will help ensure that low-income residents are able to stay in their homes and enjoy the tight-knit communities that mobile home park residents forge with their neighbors."

Herrington also encouraged the board to adopt land use codes to prevent the redevelopment of manufactured home parks. In 2018, Portland added a zoning designation for manufactured home parks to prevent them from being sold and redeveloped.

Jayapal acknowledged that there's more the board could do to protect manufactured home parks, saying commissioners have started to discuss how to do it.

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