Wealth and Want The URL comes from the subtitle to Progress & Poverty -- and the goal is widely shared prosperity in the 21st century. How do we get there from here? A roadmap and a reference source.
Reforming the Property Tax for the Common Good I'm a tax reform activist who seeks to promote fairness and reduce poverty. Let's start with the enabling legislation and state requirements for the property tax. There are opportunities for great good!
Henry George: Progress and Poverty: An inquiry into the cause of industrial depressions and of increase of want with increase of wealth ... The Remedy This is perhaps the most important book ever written on the subjects of poverty, political economy, how we might live together in a society dedicated to the ideals Americans claim to believe are self-evident. It will provide you new lenses through which to view many of our most serious problems and how we might go about solving them: poverty, sprawl, long commutes, despoilation of the environment, housing affordability, wealth concentration, income concentration, concentration of power, low wages, etc. Read it online, or in hardcopy.
Bob Drake's abridgement of Henry George's original: Progress and Poverty: Why There Are Recessions and Poverty Amid Plenty -- And What To Do About It! This is a very readable thought-by-thought updating of Henry George's longer book, written in the language of a newsweekly. A fine way to get to know Henry George's ideas. Available online at progressandpoverty.org and http://www.henrygeorge.org/pcontents.htm
Progress and Poverty, by Henry George Here are links to online editions of George's landmark book, Progress & Poverty, including audio and a number of abridgments -- the shortest is 30 words! I commend this book to your attention, if you are concerned about economic justice, poverty, sprawl, energy use, pollution, wages, housing affordability. Its observations will change how you approach all these problems. A mind-opening experience!
The Chesterfield Inn, in its prior incarnation, advertised its access
to the private beach owned by the ALC (Auldwood-Lanark-Chesterfield) Association of homeowners.
Every house on the market which has access to that beach also
advertises same in its ads. Owners and brokers understand this is a
valuable asset. Not every home on Auldwood, Lanark and Chesterfield
Roads has access; some lack access because they're on the wrong side of
the road. So clearly the right to use this beach is a valuable asset.
But how valuable? The assessor doesn't yet seem to think it is worth much. Where smaller waterfront lots (as small as 1/3 of the size of the ALC beach, at 0.17 acre) are assessed at $1,181,250, and one of 0.19 acre is valued at $1,372,900, the private association beach of 0.54 acre is valued at a mere $158,520, and in 2008 pays an annual property tax of ... are you ready? $258 -- less than a dollar a day! On a property that would likely would have sold for at least $2,000,000 at the time of the recent revaluation.
A recent article in the Stamford Advocate announced the sale of the downtown Stamford property which was, until a few months ago, the home of the newspaper. It began,
A Norwalk developer confirmed yesterday it entered into an agreement to
buy the former Advocate building in Stamford and Greenwich Time
building in Greenwich from Tribune Co. for an undisclosed amount.
I live in a small city within easy commuting distance of New York
City. It includes some lovely waterfront communities (with property
values to match), a downtown with many corporations, a 1- and 2-acre
zone, neighborhoods that include children who collectively speak 30 or more
different languages and many whose families live below the "self-sufficiency level", multiple high schools, a few magnet schools.
There are a number of subdivisions which have some common property,
and it turns out that the local assessor has been very generous with
them. Is this legitimate, or is it a privilege (private law, for the
benefit of a few at the expense of the rest of the community)? I
can't see how it is anything but a privilege, a free lunch for special
people. (To which I say, eschew privilege!!)
I'll start with the waterfront communities. There are several of
them. Within one, there are are several private associations. No
gates, no signs, except the "no trespassing" signs on their private
beaches; other than the beach signs and the real estate ads, which
invariably mention "deeded beach rights," they don't seem any different
from other streets on their peninsula. But each of the three
sub-neighborhoods has some private property on the waterfront.
“The problem is time,” offered Walter Hurney, a real estate developer.
“There just isn’t enough time. Men won’t spend a whole day away from
their family anymore.”
The five men who met here at the Wind Watch Golf Club a couple of weeks
ago, golf aficionados all, wondered out loud about the reasons. Was it
the economy? Changing family dynamics? A glut of golf courses? A
surfeit of etiquette rules — like not letting people use their
cellphones for the four hours it typically takes to play a round of 18
Or was it just the four hours?
Here on Long Island, where there are more than 100 private courses,
golf course owners have tried various strategies: coupons and trial
memberships, aggressive marketing for corporate and charity
tournaments, and even some forays into the wedding business.
Rodney B. Warnick, a professor of recreation studies and tourism at the
University of Massachusetts, said that the aging population of the
United States was probably a part of the problem, too, and that “there
is a younger generation that is just not as active.”
But golf, a sport of long-term
investors — both those who buy the expensive equipment and those who
build the princely estates on which it is played — has always seemed to
exist in a world above the fray of shifting demographics. Not anymore.
Surveys sponsored by the
foundation have asked players what keeps them away. “The answer is
usually economic,” Mr. Kass said. “No time. Two jobs. Real wages not
going up. Pensions going away. Corporate cutbacks in country club
memberships — all that doom and gloom stuff.”
In many parts of the country, high expectations for a golf bonanza
paralleling baby boomer retirements led to what is now considered a
vast overbuilding of golf courses.
Between 1990 and 2003,
developers built more than 3,000 new golf courses in the United States,
bringing the total to about 16,000. Several hundred have closed
in the last few years, most of them in Arizona, Florida, Michigan and
South Carolina, according to the foundation.
“Years ago, men thought nothing of spending the whole day playing golf
— maybe Saturday and Sunday both,” said Mr. Rocchio, the public
relations consultant, who is also the New York regional director of the
National Golf Course Owners Association. “Today, he is driving his kids
to their soccer games. Maybe he’s playing a round early in the morning.
But he has to get back home in time for lunch.”
This struck me as I thought about one of the things I see in my
town's property tax assessments. The private golf clubs have been
given very generous (low) assessments. Where surrounding land is
selling for $400,000 per acre, the 3 private golf courses are assessed
at $140,000 per acre (that's the 100% figure, not the CT 70%).
What a kind gift to give those who own or benefit from these private
parks! But I've got a real problem with asking the low-income
homeowners of my town to subsidize those who can afford expensive club
memberships. No, more precisely, I've got a problem with all the
non-members -- probably 99% of the property-owners in town -- being
asked to subsidize the club members. [And the golf course assessments aren't the worst assessment gift in my town. I'll post on that one soon.]
It is apparently standard practice for assessors in some places to
value large parcels of land very generously. I'm not talking about
special valuations for farms or forests (even if they are long-fallow
and in areas where land sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars per
acre). Rather, I am talking about valuations which treat the portion
of an owner's land beyond the minimum zoning size as if it were worth
perhaps 10% of its real value.
This happens in fairly dense suburban neighborhoods and in places where much larger lots are the minimum.
I live in small city within commuting distance of New York City.
For the 32 years I've been here, there has been a 4.3 acre
hole-in-the-ground within about 1/4 mile of the city's "100%
location." It is surrounded by a chain link fence, and bordered by a
shopping mall, a hotel, some apartments and some office buildings. It
is within walking distance of a major railroad station and two
interstate highway exits. It is even identified in the city's
assessment database as the hole in the ground. It has weed trees and
concrete-lined puddles. I seem to recall that at least one person has
drowned when their car ended up in deep water on the property.
When I moved here, the tallest building in town was 22 stories.
Today, the tallest building is still that 22-story office building. It
sits a bit to the north of the geographic center of downtown. We
currently have under construction a 37-story luxury condo complex ...
on 1/2 acre at the northwest corner of the downtown ... and a 39-story
hotel and condo complex on 3 acres, solidly in the downtown area and
close to the highway and railroad.
The 2006 revaluation was phased in, in order not to overburden some people whose previous valuations had been low and had since risen.
The phase-in was based on 80% of the old valuation -- which, if I 'm not mistaken was basically the 1999 valuations -- plus 20% of the 10/1/2006 valuation. The correctness of the new valuation was barely considered. We stuck mostly with data we knew to be seriously out of date
The 2006 valuation had its flaws, the most prominent of which was that it undervalued commercial property. But it accounted for the huge appreciation in certain neighborhoods -- those which have access to Long Island Sound in particular -- and certain kinds of properties -- former single-family homes that have been subdivided into multifamily rentals until the owner can sell them as teardowns.