The rate of Black homeownership has fallen to 40.6 percent — the lowest since 1970 — and the people who do own homes are paying higher property taxes than their white peers.
For decades, white tax assessors have been placing a heavier tax burden on Black residents by intentionally overvaluing their property, according to Pew Research. “In the Jim Crow South, officials used property taxes to punish Black homeowners and churches that boycotted white businesses or hosted civil rights meetings.”
The same seems to hold true even today. Many tax assessors still routinely burden Black residents and people of color with property tax bills that are too high in comparison to the value of their homes, according to a number of studies.
Assessors have tools to measure any inequities in their assessment and correct them, according to Paul Bidanset, project manager at the International Association of Assessing Officers, a professional organization that develops guidelines used around the world. “People are starting to think about this,” he said.
“State by state, neighborhood by neighborhood, Black families pay 13 percent more in property taxes each year than a white family would in the same situation, a massive new data analysis shows,” The Washington Post reported.
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There have been many studies looking at the property tax discrepancies.
In nearly every state, property tax assessments were higher in areas with more Black and Hispanic residents, according to a new working paper by economist Troup Howard of the University of Utah and Carlos Avenancio-León of Indiana University.
The Chicago Tribune published a series in 2017 on the Cook County Tax Assessor’s Office, finding that for years the county’s property tax system had given major financial breaks to homeowners in wealthier and mainly white communities while those living in poorer areas tended to have higher in property taxes.
A 2018 investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News showed that homes in that city that sold for $25,000 to $50,000 were assessed 70 percent higher than they should have been. Such assessments inflated the tax bill for a $37,500 home by about $360 annually, Pew reported. Meanwhile, homes that sold for between $1 million and $2 million were assessed at nearly 11 percent below their actual value. This meant they had a tax of $2,000 less than it should have been.
Over in New Orleans, a March report by the Louisiana legislative auditor showed that the Orleans Parish assessor did not appraise “18 percent of the residential and commercial properties that it should have reappraised in the 2020 tax year, and had conducted ‘land-only’ reappraisals of 38 percent of properties, instead of including the value of the building as required by state law,” Pew reported.
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The area that wasn’t assessed was home to the wealthiest properties in New Orleans, said Broderick Bagert, a lead organizer with Together Louisiana, a statewide network of more than 250 religious and civic organizations that is fighting for major changes to the tax assessment process in the city.
“It means that the poorer you are, the more your property taxes have gone up relative to the value of your house,” Bagert said. “This is not just an abstract fairness question. This is a question that can impact whether people can stay in their homes and stay in the city.”