This is the third piece in an ongoing series that examines the role that control of land has played in racial injustice throughout Black history in the United States: Part 1: Slaveholders and Land Monopoly (1619 to 1865)Part 2: 40 Acres and a Ghoul (1865… Read More »Land & Racial Injustice – Part 3: Homeownership: White Subsidy, Black Exclusion (1910 to 1970)
Dear Friends, Winter holidays offer an opportunity to slow down (for a moment, anyway!), take stock of the year that’s drawing to a close, and set intentions for the one to come. Here at RSF, we have a number of reasons to look back fondly… Read More »A note from our Executive Director, Winter Digest 2023
Passing on the LVT option, North Carolina moves forward with slashing its flat income tax rate anyway. On September 20th, North Carolina House and Senate leaders put forth a long-anticipated two- year budget agreement. The agreement does not include the Land Value Tax that Resource… Read More »North Carolina moves forward with slashing its flat income tax rate
Note: this article contains mathematical equations; please download a PDF copy at this link to view those equations in the proper format. Introduction Recently, there has been increasing interest in the potential for land value taxes (LVT)  to help combat housing crises and wealth… Read More »Decoupling Land and Improvement Values
Here at the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, our research initiative Resource Justice recently hosted an event called Driving the Shift, as a forum to hear from local efforts to advance land value tax policies in places throughout the U.S. We were lucky enough to hear from… Read More »Driving the Shift: Tax activism and the move to Land Value Tax
In our previous article describing speculation on vacant urban land, we pointed out that the attention paid to vacant housing often overlooks another type of pernicious vacancy: housing units that aren’t even built in the first place. Sometimes this looks like plots of land lying vacant for decades, even in the face of exorbitant rents, earning juicy speculative profits for the owner as their land rises in value. But speculative profiteering doesn’t only occur on wholly vacant land. It also occurs on underutilized land. In this article, we examine the social harms that arise from underutilized land, consider ways of measuring it, and propose policies to discourage it.
As academics, advocates, and pundits scramble to explain the rising burden of housing costs in American cities, much has been written about the specter of vacant housing. A symptom of wealthy speculators, vacant units indicate that many investors are happy to park their wealth in real estate and profit from growth in land values without the hassle of actually having to build or rent-out empty units.
This narrative is often paired with calls for a tax on vacant units, which is expected to push these units into being made available for use by tenants. While there are merits to this argument, it misses the forest for the trees, as it entirely fails to identify and fix two other ways in which scarce space within our cities is wasted: through vacant and/or underutilized urban land. Just like vacant dwellings, vacant and utilized lots are held out of use by speculators when they could instead be housing many more people.
In this article, we will summarize the existing research on the causes and consequences of urban land, which primarily centers on the existence of blighted land in struggling cities.
“Could I begin life again, knowing what I now know, and had money to invest, I would buy every foot of land on the island of Manhattan.”
So wrote one of the original robber barons of the early nineteenth century. Yet almost 200 years later, the idea of holding land as a road to riches is alive and well in New York City. Though, of course, owning land is not so bad when the owner also uses it productively, provides employment, or builds affordable houses. But owning ground to make money on it while doing nothing to it is a problem New York doesn’t need.
In 2022, New York City is facing a new onslaught from the financial sector and their hedge fund billions. The city is enormous––700 square miles. But under the current cruel system, struggling families and small businesses have the nearly impossible task of finding a decent location to live or do business.
LLCs are a way to combine the benefits of a traditional corporate structure with enhanced anonymity and reduced tax-liability, making them the ideal method for limiting risk while at the same time maximizing profits. This incentivizes land speculation rather than reinvestment in the land in the form of development. At the same time, LLCs provide no incentive to improve the properties they own, leaving many areas of NYC blighted and underutilized. This has obvious negative consequences for the neighborhoods in which they are located. Because LLC owners are anonymous, there is no way to exert pressure on them to either improve or sell their properties. This is why this tool is such an important means to increasing transparency and accountability in LLC ownership.
For there to be transparency and accountability, however, it’s important that the pertinent information is accessible to the public. Again, this is where the CPTR mapping tool comes in. It identifies vacant and underutilized parcels in NYC and illuminates them on an interactive map which allows anyone to see if a parcel is owned by an LLC or privately owned.
So we’re left with these dual realities: the premise of property taxes is sound, but the execution is inequitable. And for us at the Center for Property Tax Reform this brings two questions immediately to mind: First, where does bias in property assessments come from? (After all, professional assessors’ primary objective is to create valuations that are “fair and equitable,” not for some property owners, but for all of them.) And second, recognizing that many current assessments fall short of meeting the fair and equitable standard, what can we do to fix them?
It was with these questions in mind that we created our “Bias in Assessments Handbook.” The Handbook combines an extensive literature review with data gathered through one-on-one interviews with professional assessors in some of the nation’s largest jurisdictions – assessors who have personally and professionally dedicated themselves to identifying and remedying regressivity and inequities in their jurisdictions’ assessments and can speak with authority about how to do it right.