This is a tale of three houses, and the taxes their owners pay on them. I could write a column full of bitter recriminations about the regressive nature of taxes in my home state and town, and their destabilizing effect on neighborhoods and my own way of life, but I knew what I was getting into when I came back to Texas from the east coast (and the three income taxes I paid there, Federal, State of Pennsylvania, and City of Philadelphia).
All those income taxes were challenging to a then young Texan who thought lack of taxation was a birthright. Then he found out he could write off the local and state taxes on his Federal taxes, and all of a sudden the pain went away. Homeowners in states with income taxes pay substantially less in property taxes than we do here in the Lone Star State because their local governments don’t have to squeeze blood out of the root vegetables that are their taxpayer base.
Lately, I’ve been talking to two friends, same age, same stage in their careers, all proud owners of lovely historic money pits. One house is an elegant brownstone in Park Slope Brooklyn, one of the most coveted urban neighborhoods on the planet. The other house is in leafy Haddonfield, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The third is my house on Adams Street.
The house in Park Slope was purchased in 1990 for a little over $100,000; that was then. Now it’s worth a few million dollars. My New York friend pays a third of what I pay in property taxes and my house, because it’s in San Antonio, is worth considerably less than his.
My Haddonfield friend’s house is worth about $250,000 more than mine, and he pays about what I pay in property taxes, which he considers to be outrageous. What is the problem with Haddonfield? It has no industry, almost no commercial property, hardly any institutional property, so the sales tax-starved community has some of the highest property tax rates on the East Coast.
The only one of us who isn’t selling a house right now is the New Yorker – his cost of living is negligible with his tiny loan long since paid off and a tax burden he pays out of any month’s paycheck.
I can still pay my taxes, but they are 300% of what they were when I shooed the painters out and moved in a little over a decade ago. My Haddonfield friend is in the same position, although he makes a great deal more than the other two of us, but he’s about to become an empty nester and can find more economical digs, which is only prudent.
I guess I’ve succumbed to the fate of a serial gentrifier in Texas. I find a wonderful dwelling and then am taxed out of it every decade or so. And I’m one of the fortunate – I have resources and can (and have) found another beautiful place to live.
For sale signs have sprouted in the neighborhood this spring like Rain Lilies after a storm. I take little comfort in acknowledging that I have so much company for my misery.
- Michael Guarino