This week for the web, Jasmine Gallup wrote about a group of Wake County residents from the housing justice coalition ONE Wake who are putting pressure on the Wake County Board of Commissioners to provide some sort of property tax relief as the Triangle becomes increasingly unaffordable for renters and longtime homeowners. Reader Iain Burnett has some thoughts on these efforts:

Gentrification needs to hire a PR firm. It’s not a bad thing. It’s the reason the world has the population distribution it does now—for millennia have-lesses and have-mores competed over desirable patches of land, and generally the former had to move on and accept a slightly-less-desirable patch of land. Thankfully, the driving force is dollars now instead of swords and arrows. The desire for cheap farm land was what brought American settlers west of the Appalachians. Over time, their efforts created desirable patches of land for the cycle to repeat—look up best places to live Midwest or mountain west or west coast and you’ll find cities and towns aplenty that were once edge of the map, amenity-free census tracts.

Lately though, the youngest child of NIMBYism is baring its teeth here in Raleigh. It happened in California in the 1970s, when an aging population got legislation passed to forever limit property tax raises to 2% and to create excessive barriers to property development. It essentially said, those who are here now are locked in as winners; those yet to come, tough luck. In many measures it is what’s responsible for the housing crisis out there, as lone retirees can afford to hold onto their million dollar family-sized houses on a fixed income (which by the way, condemns public services who depend on taxes to a bankrupt future). Now I see an effort to propose property tax relief for longtime residents in Raleigh (woe to those who haven’t lived here “long enough” to qualify). No good comes from distorting the housing market like that. Yes, some people with limited incomes who’ve seen their neighborhood appreciate greatly will find the most economical decision is to move away to where land is cheaper. But by doing so, they open up a property by the schools, the jobs, and the parks for the next person to move in. Those jobs and great schools here that are attracting the influx? They aren’t going anywhere. When the housing stock is made artificially static, all that happens is the inbound people live farther away, commute more, and don’t get to have what previous generations had that made the community a desirable place to live. It encourages developers, who by previous NIMBY legislation have been locked out from making townhouses and secondary dwelling units, to instead build housing farms along highway corridors, further locking us into a car-dependent life.

I looked up ONE Wake’s proposed legislation, and it amounts to a 1cent/$100 property value tax. For a $500,000 property, that is $50 annually from people who can afford to live here, to subsidize people who cannot but get to anyways. The size of the tax doesn’t bother me—it’s the idea that our money will be used to break the natural housing cycle and condemn Raleigh to a future that can only mean sprawl and artificially chosen winners and losers. Let’s not stack a new problem onto the already existing problems around housing and transportation. 

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