Many of us have become homeowners. February is the month when homeowners who do not have their taxes collected by their mortgage company have to write that big check for property tax. Ouch!
Back in the 70’s, the famous economist Milton Friedman said property tax is “Not unpopular for good economic reasons. It’s unpopular in my opinion for one simple reason: It’s the only tax left on the books for which people have to write a big check.” Maybe so.
Income taxes and Social Security contributions are withheld from paychecks before the recipients get their hands on the money. Sales taxes are remitted by merchants and other business. It’s only with property taxes that a regular person gets a bill and has to pay it.
Property tax is unpopular for other reasons than “Ouch!” as well. For one thing, property tax bills can rise without property owners doing anything to cause it or stop it. What’s more, rising tax bills can push property owners to make economic decisions they might prefer to avoid.
People can adjust their spending, and often their income. But they can’t help it if house prices go up 30% a year. After 2010 the gentrified Graduate Hospital area experienced just such an increase! In that neighborhood the black population fell by half between 2000 and 2014. One reason is that rental properties changed to homeownership. Another reason is that homeowners could not afford rising costs, like property tax, now pegged to actual home value.
According to economists with the Apartment List, the Philadelphia metro has a homeownership racial gap of over 25 percent. About 72 percent of “whites” own homes in the Philadelphia area while about 47 percent of “nonwhites” own them. Most new construction these days, which has skyrocketed in price, is out of the price range for many Philadelphians of all races. The emphasis on building homes for the rich in the last decade has caused housing shortages for everyone else all over the country.
This post mostly goes to show that Christians can talk about anything without fear. We don’t have a financial life and a spiritual life.
But it is also to say “OUCH!” We feel your pain. Many of us own homes, so we feel it quite literally!
Being under the thumb of the volatile “invisible hand” of market forces has to be one of the most anxiety-provoking experiences we have. Every year when we write that check we get a dose of reality and understand, again, that governments, developers, and the hidden forces that move them just might run over us, or our neighbors, without much notice.