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  • DC Council Cutting Vacant Property Tax Just As It Starts Working

    Posted on July 31st, 2009 Brian No comments

    Hot on the heels of my ebullient post that the vacant property tax was starting to bear fruit comes the news that the Council is going to cut the tax.  And it’s going to cost the city $10.8 million (although not until 2011) at a time when we’re facing a massive deficit.

    And why?  Councilmember Mendelson is quoted as stating that the higher tax rate makes it, “difficult for some property owners to sell or put their property back to use.”  This is bogus reasoning fails to consider that properties that are either for sale or have current building permits for in-progress construction are automatically exempted from the higher rate.

    Furthermore, at the last ANC 2F meeting Councilmember Evans attended, he stated unequivocally that the issue of cutting the vacant property tax was going to be dropped, and instead the Council would be seeking ways to better differentiate between properties that were problems and those that were not (ANC 2F May 2009 meeting minutes, page 3). Clearly, something flip-flopped Councilmember Evans’ opinion in the last three months, since it seems he now supports a continued free-ride for the longest-standing blights in our neighborhood.

    So, to summarize, we’re cutting a tax that is not only just starting to serve its purpose, but that is also raising money for the city when it needs it most.  This move is both counterproductive and foolish.

  • Vacant Property Tax Working Exactly As Intended

    Posted on July 28th, 2009 Brian No comments

    Vacant properties are a huge problem in the District, especially in the inner core neighborhoods like Logan Circle and Shaw.  In addition to being both unsightly and a poor use of land, these properties often become nuisances, attracting crime, graffiti, drug dealing, and homeless men and women who shelter in them despite their often unsafe structures.  One might hope that market incentive and the rising real estate prices in these resurging areas would drive owners of vacant land to either sell or develop the property they own, but – alas! – Mr. Smith’s invisible hand sometimes fails to act.

    Of particular note is the large number of vacant properties in Logan and Shaw owned by various churches.  In the wake of the riots, the churches purchased many such buildings with good intentions, such as creating shelters, offering low-cost housing to needy residents, or simply to make them unavailable to local thugs.  As any preacher worth his salt can tell you, though, those good intentions pave a particular road.

    Recently, the District dramatically raised the property tax rates on vacant properties from 88¢ per square foot to $5 per square foot.  Pure and simple, it is an effort to force the hand of careless landowners who fail to develop their properties, and whose properties consumes an inordinate quantity of city services because of the vacancies.  And it seems to be working!

    At least month’s ANC 2F meeting, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church was on hand to make a request for an exemption from the vacant property tax rate.  They are trying to secure funding for development of one of their long-vacant properties, and (given the economic climate) were having trouble doing so.  The ANC agreed to recommend an extension.  I made sure to let them know that we would be watching their progress closely, however, especially given the history of neglect and carelessness they had already exhibited.  There are rumblings of another church that will be on the agenda in September for a similar request.  And now DCist is reporting that Shiloh Baptist voted to sell some of their long-vacant holdings on 8th Street!

    It’s important to note that this tax rate is not without controversy.  There were some reports of unfortunate situations where homes were incorrectly classified as vacant, as well as some cases where vacant lots used as community gardens or dog parks are getting taxed at the new rate.  Clearly, the law needs to modified to handle those situations appropriately.  But as to the core issue the tax hike was meant to address?

    Seems like it’s working out pretty good to me.