106-year-old about to lose home since 1943 due to NJ property tax
UPDATE: Since this article was published Thursday evening, hundreds of readers made more than $14,700 in donations to help Rose Estwanick stay in her home. Read update.
A 106-year-old New Jersey woman suffering from dementia, heart issues and extreme arthritis could soon be kicked out of her house because she doesn’t have enough money to pay her property taxes.
Rose Estwanick must come up with $8,400 to avoid having her property sold in a tax sale by Cranford on Sept. 18, around the time of her 107th birthday.
The woman’s daughter, Rosanne Estwanick, said her mother does not understand she may soon be forced to leave the home she’s lived in since 1943.
Property taxes on the modest two-story house in a development near Unami Park this year are $9,725 — an increase of about $335 from last year, and an increase of more than $2,300 since 2010, records show.
The average property tax bill in Cranford last year was $11,375, an annual increase of 3.9%, a New Jersey 101.5 analysis shows.
New Jersey's property taxes have long been among the highest in the nation. Unlike the state and federal income taxes, which are based on annual income levels, the property tax system is considered regressive because it's more punishing to fixed- and lower-income home owners, as well as families who fall on hard times.
New Jersey seniors can apply for the Senior Freeze program, which reimburses homeowners for the difference between the first year they qualified for the program and any increase in the taxes since that year. A homeowner has to earn less than $89,000 in income. It was not clear Thursday if Estwanick had qualified for that program.
A New Jersey 101.5 report earlier this year found that the amount of assistance provided by the state's property tax relief programs, including Senior Freeze and the Homestead rebates, has declined significantly since 2007.
The younger Estwanick, who lost her job eight years ago and has been caring for her mother round-the-clock ever since, said she has been told deferring property tax payments is not an option.
“It’s not that I don’t want to pay them, it’s just that we just can’t pay them at this point. They keep adding on. The bill is getting larger and larger.”
She said efforts to raise money to pay off the taxes have been unsuccessful.
"I was trying but my mother went into the hospital at the end of the year and I just couldn’t get up enough money. Nobody has responded to me," she said.
The elder woman, whose only source of income is Social Security, has had more than a dozen operations and she survived breast cancer in 1989. Daily life is a struggle but she continues to carry on with dignity and grace, her daughter said.
Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said that when his office got a call about the situation he went to visit the mother and daughter on Thursday to get a first-hand account of what’s going on.
Bramnick said efforts are underway to find out if help is available.
Estwanick said that taking care of her mother is an all-consuming job and there are no other relatives who can help, so it is not possible for her to go out to earn money.
“I’m trying to do something but right now my hands are tied,” she said.
“I would like to make my mother’s birthday, even though she has dementia, a happier occasion. It’s just a very embarrassing situation for me."
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this report should have said the income limit for the Senior Freeze program is $89,000.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com