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The property tax and the affordable city
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California's Prop 13 Impacts Housing Affordability

For every dollar a home buyer saves in property taxes, he pays several extra dollars to the previous owner and the banks. Small wonder California leads the nation in foreclosures. This 2011 bulletin was released August 3. Copyright 2011

by Yisroel Pensack

A 21st-century follower of 19th-century political economist Henry George, whose classic Progress and Poverty (to see the book, click here ) was written in San Francisco and published there in 1879, has analyzed the effect of California's property-tax-cutting Proposition 13 and found that that 1978 measure has had a devastating impact on housing affordability in the Golden State.

"Cutting [the] property tax was supposed to make housing affordable. Instead, the tax cuts attracted so many speculators that California's 'affordability index,' which had been only 10% higher than the national average when Prop 13 passed, is now about 300% higher," wrote Dan Sullivan, director of education of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Saving Communities (to see the group, click here ).

The affordability index divides the median house price by the median income, noted Sullivan, writing in response to a Sunday New York Times article on George's land value tax idea (to see the article, click here ) .

The same article, "A Tax Policy With San Francisco Roots" by Elizabeth Lesly Stevens, also ran in The Bay Citizen (to see the article, click here ), a Times-affiliated San Francisco publication, which is where Sullivan's online comment appears (to see the remarks, click here ). I reported on the Stevens article on (to see the report, click here ).

According to Sullivan, "Twenty-three of the twenty-five least affordable [U.S.] cities are in California. The least affordable of all is San Francisco, where the median house price in 2005 equalled 12.64 years of median income." He noted, "I don't count Berkeley, which has so many students with part-time jobs that its median income is artificially low." To see Sullivan's affordability data, click here .

Sullivan suggests that although proponents of Prop 13 might contend that "high prices [exist] because of California's growth during the second half of the twentieth century…[actually] most of California's pro-growth momentum developed before Prop 13, and most of the housing price boom came after [it], while growth momentum was slowing. Also, Texas, the other of the two fastest-growing states, relies heavily on property taxes and is one of the most affordable states generally, containing four of the six most affordable cities."

According to Sullivan,