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.