Monday, October 18, 2010

Evans Promises Slumlord $100,000 Tax Break

According to an article in the Washington Business Journal, Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) has proposed that the city tax a strip of vacant properties owned by Shiloh Baptist Church along the long-neglected Ninth Street corridor in Shaw as if they were occupied, a move that would save the church about $100,000 each year.

The brief history is that Shiloh has left these properties vacant for decades, severely damaging the recovery of the area just west of the Convention Center.  Numerous promises were made of grand plans for senior centers and housing.  For years, the church evaded the city's vacant property tax, which attempts to shift the cost of such nuisances from the community that deals with the increased vagrancy, drugs, public urination and defecation, public drinking, trash, rats, and dumping that results (and to which the Shiloh properties are prime examples) to the owner.

In the face of complaints from residents who felt the impact of the derelict properties on their safety and quality of life, the city finally imposed the higher tax rate.  In addition, in 2007, the Fenty Administration stepped up and condemned several of the properties.

In the ultimate snub, however, Shiloh then obtained from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) an exemption from the higher tax on the basis of work permits obtained to make the minor repairs necessary to abate the condemnation order (even though the law clearly says that the permits must be for work to make the property fit for occupancy).  Residents went ballistic and Shiloh's properties were reclassified as vacant, subject to the higher tax.  The city, however, let the church off the hook for the approximately $100,000 in additional taxes the church would have paid that year at the higher rate.

Good fortune again intervened for Shiloh in 2009.  Before the church got hit with the higher rate, the D.C. Council repealed the vacant property tax.  Shiloh still risked paying the new "blighted" property tax.

On October 1, thanks to Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, a revived higher tax rate for vacant property went into effect, leaving Shiloh subject to five times the residential tax rate.

The higher property tax appears to have finally provided the long-needed incentive for Shiloh to sell off two of its vacant houses and develop several others into office space for nonprofits and senior housing.  Evans' proposal to reward the church with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks, at a time in which the city is cash-starved, is fiscally irresponsible and sends precisely the wrong message to slum property owners.

Resident reaction to the proposed tax abatement was angry and swift:
"An owner is supposed to get a pass if they have a valid permit or pending zoning application. This owner should not get any special treatment especially given their 30 year slumbanking history."

"I would be supportive of this IF it was done in a manner that it was a carrot for taking action NOT done before the project began."

"The neighborhood conceded angle parking on Sunday with promises of fixing up their properties -- and that was when people were living in some of them. You have to be kidding yourself that a hefty tax abatement will make them move any faster or in any way whatsoever toward ameliorating their decayed properties."

"Shiloh has no intention of ever rebuilding. They game the city and the pols and get whatever they want while everyone else gets screwed over."
Exempt Shiloh's properties from the vacant property tax when they are no longer vacant.  That's an exemption the community can fully support.

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