A person could fall into depression if they are overwhelmed by debt. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to an elderly Fulton County woman on the brink of losing her home.
Her community stepped in and created a GoFundMe fund to help her pay off her debts.
According to the fundraising website, Ethel Callaway’s taxes went from $20 a year in 2014 to nearly $3,000 in 2021 after her homestead exemptions and senior discounts were removed. Investa, a third lien holder, now owes her over $8,000 in back tax.
The program was intended to help low-income seniors reduce their tax bills, but it’s actually doing the opposite for some elderly people in the county.
“They said that the home could go up for sale on the steps of the courthouse and I do not want to lose my home,” Callaway told WSB-TV.
After failing to pay her enormous property taxes, the widow of 80 years found herself in serious debt.
Periodontist Dr. Gail McLaurin discovered Callaway’s dilemma while the latter was sitting in her dental chair.
“I’ve learned to listen to my patients, because they tell me what’s wrong,” McLaurin said.
After learning that her patient was close to losing her home of more than 40 years, she quickly realized that she needed more than dental care. And it’s all because of a hefty back tax bill that a low-income senior couldn’t possibly afford.
Callaway had to shed the excess weight and live off minimal Social Security benefits due to the strain it placed on her shoulders.
McLaurin, a friend named Edie and McLaurin created a GoFundMe account to help her.
“We want to get her out of this horrible situation,” they wrote on the fundraiser’s page. “Your gift to this lovely, faithful, 80-year-old widow will pay off the debt owed to Investa Services and clear her liens. Going forward, she should be able to handle her taxes once again.”
Fulton County Tax Assessor automatically enrolls homeowners who are eligible for the low-income senior homestead exemption. To keep their enrollment, individuals must submit tax data and documentation every two years.
If they fail to do so, or if a property owner doesn’t respond to letters advising that a new homestead application must be submitted, Fulton County strips all their homestead exemptions, including city and school exemptions that typically renew automatically. This is because the assessor’s office has no way of knowing if the owner still occupies the property.
According to the GoFundMe, Callaway “was never told that this happened and believed her property tax exemptions were in place, since her situation had never changed.”
This caused her tax bills skyrocket.
“Worry, sleepless nights, tossing and turning,” Callaway said of the massive tax problems she’s facing. “It’s extremely stressful, extremely stressful and depressing and depressing.”
Atlanta legal aid attorney Stacy Reynolds said that “it’s ignoring the whole purpose of why this program was set up.”
Reynolds stated that she has seen other seniors in Fulton County deal with the same problem.
“It doesn’t make sense and I don’t think it follows the law. Most of the other exemptions say they continue as long as the person is still eligible,” she said.
Nearly 300 people have pitched in to Callaway’s fundraiser. To date, it has raised almost $19,000, which is way past the fundraiser’s $10,000 goal!
The good news for her is that her homestead exemptions will be restored in the future. Any funds raised beyond the target amount will go towards her home’s repair, which has seen some wear and tear as well as a leaky roof.
“I’m excited, truly blessed and I feeling so very happy. And I’m just floating along now,” Callaway said.
You can visit this GoFundMe site to make a contribution.
To learn more about this story, please watch the video below.
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