I'm experiencing what all my neighbors are apparently experiencing.  All of our little envelopes from the county’s Tax Assessor’s Office have been found to contain explosive material – a surprise jump in property valuations by an almost unfathomable margin.  My next door neighbors have discovered that their house has jumped in value by 250% since their last tax bill.  In my case it’s a mere 200%.  If there is a saving grace it is that only the “improvements,” that is, the house and carriage house, have escalated in value; the land is still assessed at the same rate.  Dirt is dirt, I presume.  

I lament this not only for the impact on my own finances, but for the potential impact on our King William oasis.  The City of San Antonio hired a famed consultant on the economic impact of historic preservation on local commerce and property values.  His name is Donovan Rypkema. He compiled an extensive report that found that the King William Historic District, contrary to popular mythology, is not a haven for billionaires, but a perfect mirror reflecting the demographics of the Alamo City.  We are a majority Hispanic neighborhood, with a median income exactly matching the city’s median.  We have exactly the same average level of educational attainment as the city as a whole.  Where we differ is in the value of our homes, but in the aggregate, King William houses are not much more valuable than the citywide median.

What this really means, however, is that there is a very wide diversity in the size and value of all the residences in the district.  It is very unusual to have mansions, apartment buildings, cottages and “granny flats” mixed together in the same neighborhood, not to mention the same block.  There is no “gated community” in King William, and no ghetto either. It would be hard to imagine a more egalitarian place.

My fear is that this beautiful equilibrium will be permanently disrupted by the escalating value of our riverside real estate.  Those of our neighbors with modest incomes may be priced out of their homes by tax burdens they can no longer support.  Those of us in the middle have to be rational about judging the tipping point when our houses may finally become too valuable for us to own them.  Pay the taxes or defer maintenance?  New car or taxes?  Vacation or taxes?

Urban property values are rising at an incomprehensible rate.  Restless global capital has created bidding wars for property in the world’s most expensive cities, and has resulted in creating an entirely new phenomenon: ghost town neighborhoods.  London’s famous Belgravia (think Upstairs, Downstairs) is now almost completely empty, its trophy townhouses held as assets, like gold bullion, by absentee owners.  Manhattan’s race to build super-tall condominium towers is already yielding similar results: $150 million apartments that are owned by holding companies…and completely empty.

I’m going to have a glass of wine on my second floor back porch when I get home tonight.  I’ll feel the breeze from the river and watch the silhouettes of the herons winging over the trees.  And I’ll wonder how many more years I’ll enjoy that lacy veranda. 

- Michael Guarino