Kansas City Westside Community Goes All-in on Abatements

Here’s What Kansas City, Missouri Looks Like These Days
Here’s What Kansas City, Missouri Looks Like These Days

Kansas City Westside Community Goes All-in on Abatements

Kansas City Westside Community Goes All-in on Abatements

The Kansas City Westside neighborhood is the historic home of the Mexican–American community in Kansas City. It has experienced particularly large property assessment and tax increases in recent years for a variety of reasons, some of which you can read about here, here, and here.

Due to its great location, the neighborhood is undergoing gentrification as new, wealthier homeowners move in, leading to property value increases and higher taxes on long-term residents. In order to combat this, the neighborhood organization proposed turning the entire neighborhood into a Chapter 353 abatement plan designed to refund a percentage of property taxes to current residents based on their incomes.

I genuinely understand the desire for people to stay in their neighborhoods and not be taxed out by rising property values. But I think this enormous neighborhood abatement plan is a very bad idea. If it were copied throughout Missouri, it would lead to increased reliance on sales and income taxes (that is a bad thing), an increase in the abuse of abatements as certain people get special deals and other people pay higher rates, and a general increase in the involvement of government in the simple act of owning a home, since a government body has to vote on plans like this. Make no mistake: if this practice becomes common everyone, on average, is going to end up paying higher property taxes.

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An article in support of this plan states that it is only available to current residents. That is deeply troubling (emphasis added):

These benefits accrue only to existing West Side residents. New people coming in would not receive any of the benefits, so the plan would not produce further gentrification.

There is a name for this type of tax policy. It’s called “welcome stranger.” That simply means that new property owners pay higher tax rates for comparable properties than current owners. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against it in 1990, but I strongly suspect that the lawyers behind this Westside 353 plan crafted the plan to try to avoid legal challenges. Even if that is the case, is this good public policy? Absolutely not. This is going in the entirely wrong direction. We need to end tax abatements and other tax subsidies throughout Missouri so that the tax base is broader for everyone—and rates thereby lower—to fund the government services we want.

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I had hoped the mayor of Kansas City would veto this bill, but he did not. I now expect the lawyers who drew this plan up to start passing out business cards at every neighborhood meeting in Missouri where there is a colorable claim for using Chapter 353. The short-term gain for the Westside community may produce long-term harms for Missouri.

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