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A letter from the Executive Director

Fall is here once again.  This change of seasons typically evokes thoughts of colorful leaves; nights by the fire, hot cocoa in hand; and the impending holiday season.  This fall, however, larger, more distressing trends are overshadowing these fanciful notions in many people’s minds.

Inflation has us paying more – much more – for everything from the food we feed our families, to the gas we put in our cars, to the insurance policies we purchase to safeguard our assets.  And when it comes to our homes (often cited as most Americans’ largest asset) more and more buyers find themselves priced out of a housing market that is increasingly dominated by corporate investors with all cash offers, looking to turn a dual profit as landlords and owners of physical assets that can be borrowed against with ease.

The effects of this financialization of housing reverberate through the rental markets as well.  Rents are skyrocketing and many longtime tenants find themselves facing eviction or negotiating a relationship with a new (likely less humane) corporate landlord in response to the purchase of their home.

The full effect of the financialization of housing has yet to manifest in the world of property taxation, but hints of its impacts are already apparent.  At the International Association of Assessing Officers annual conference in September, assessment professionals swapped stories of corporate lawyers filing mass appeals of unparalleled proportions (2,000 in an hour!), and staggering market increases (240% in 3 months!), which pose seemingly insurmountable challenges to their existing staff and assessment infrastructure.

So now what?  What can any one person or organization do to combat the fundamental erosion of economic equity that these trends portend?  At RSF we rely on our programming, and the fundamental direction provided by our founding mission, to define our course of action.

Our Grant Program has already supported fundamental research into a number of relevant topics, including the corporate buy-out of America’s single family housing market, how market surplus can be legally redistributed, and how to optimize the property tax.  And when our grant cycle reopens in mid-October, we’ll be accepting proposals on a variety of new topics related to equity in taxation and land use, Georgist history, and more.

In September we welcomed our first class of Progress of Ideas Scholars, whose areas of study include international economics, political science, politics, criminal justice, and sociology.  We’ve also entered into a partnership with Tufts University to support its Neighborhood Fellows Program, which brings mid-career, urban leaders of color back to campus in pursuit of a Master’s of Public Policy degree.  Through RSF, both cohorts of scholars will participate in a set of evening webinars designed to introduce them to the ideas of Henry George and their modern day applications, equipping these current and future leaders with the knowledge necessary to bring these important concepts to bear in solving society’s most fundamental challenges.

And our Center for Property Tax Reform (CPTR) continues to conduct and support original research and community outreach on issues of just taxation and sustainable land use.  Having just hired our first-ever Assistant Director, Stephen Hoskins, CPTR looks forward to releasing the results of an in-depth statistical analysis of the relationship between LLC ownership and land vacancy and blight in New York City in the coming weeks.  We’ll also publish a multi-part qualitative analysis of land leases in Amsterdam, researched and written by Dutch journalist, Rinske Bijl.  Bijl’s writings have already been featured on the RSF website and in other international publications, helping to draw attention to, and increase understanding of land value taxes.

So as fall settles over RSF’s offices in Princeton the temperatures are cooling, and yes, we’re reaching for that cup of hot cocoa.  But we’re also doing everything we can to illuminate and combat the almost unimaginably large trends that threaten economic equity.  Please enjoy this issue of the RSF Digest and stay tuned for all of our future programming, publications, and funding opportunities.

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