Taxes and Gentrification


The Baltimore City Paper offers a lesson in taxing your unchic neighbors off the block:

Some people think property-tax assessments in Baltimore's gentrifying Mount Vernon neighborhood are too low. They want the taxes increased.

These folks–some 33 members of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association–aren't talking about their own valuations, though. They're talking about some of their neighbors' places. The ones with the cheap apartments.

And these folks wanting the tax increase don't want their neighbors to pay those taxes. Not necessarily.

They want them to sell out.

To the pals of the tax increasers.

The best part? They openly admit all this.

"What's behind this whole tax thing for us–there's a real demand for big houses here," says Mount Vernon resident Paul Warren, who is leading the charge. "D.C. is driving it."

Warren, who telecommutes to Fairfax County, Va., from the jaw-droppingly renovated mansion he and his wife bought on the 800 block of Park Avenue in 1999, says a lot of Washington-area denizens of his acquaintance would sorely love to pick up a big ol' historic 25-foot-wide townhouse with parquet floors and plaster filigrees. He says they'd pay several hundred grand for the privilege of spending several hundred grand more fixing them up.

But nobody much is selling [the buildings, because] their absentee owners bought them cheap decades ago. Their taxes–figured on the basis of the income they derive as businesses–have remained low. And so the rents stay cheap, the landlords make money, and everyone is happy. Except the rich people who want to kick the renters out and turn them back into mansions.