Property Tax, Travis county, Austin

There are a number of threads running through the posts on this blog about Austin and Texas. One key aspect of them is how things get paid for, and what gets paid for. Since Texas(bigger than Germany, approx. 7/8 the Population of Germany) has no income tax, as boasts about it’s low corporate taxes, apart from the 6.25% sales tax, property tax is key.

(c) http://www.tax-rates.org
(c) http://www.tax-rates.org

Property tax, the valuation and assessment of properties has become both increasingly complex, and for many long term residents, unaffordable. Among those arguing for greater density in Austin, there are calls for better transportation, more affordable rents etc.

The fact that Caesar Chavez currently has more high rise development than any other street in America, added to all the stories and blatant self promotion that Austin in #1 in this, no.1 in that, highest ranked for everything has lead to a typical Texas business friendly “gold rush” over the last 10-years, eight of which have been presided over by rail-or-fail Mayor Leffingwell.

All this has lead to massive gentrification of the core and central neighborhoods. Development and re-development in itself isn’t evil, it’s the nature of the development and the context it’s done in. However, when that development is done by forcing people who’ve spent their adult lives in a neighborhood out, because they can no longer afford among other things, the property taxes, thats just plain wrong and bordering on financial exploitation.

Imagine, you were a hard working manual worker, domestic, construction, yard, office, transportation, etc. in the late 1970’s in Austin. A very different place. South of the river was mostly for the working poor, as a legacy of the cities 1920’s policies, east of I35 for the racially segregated families. You’ve struggled in the heat with no central a/c, poor transport options, typical inner city problems. Your do what you can to plan for your retirement, depend on federally provided health programs and finally you get to retire in your late 60’s.

Then along comes the modern, gold rush Austin. A few people, often like me, move into your neighborhood because we want something authentic, real rather than remote, urban sprawl neighborhoods. Sooner or later, business spots the opportunity to take advantage of the low property prices, the neighborhood starts to pick-up and before you know it, your meager retirement can’t afford the property taxes that are now annually more than the price of your house from 40-years ago.

Few people seem to understand the emotional, and stressful impact of having to even consider moving, let alone being financially relocated in your reclining years. It changes virtually every aspect of your life. One possible solution to this, and some of Austins other problems is the “accessory dwelling”. I’ll return to ADU’s in a subsequent post, it isn’t a simple as just making then easier to get permitted an built though.

With the City of Austin, typically for Texas, siding with business and refusing to challenge commercial property tax appraisals, the burden falls on private homes. That’s why it is important for everyone to protest their appraisals until the existing system changes.

If you don’t understand how the system works, and more importantly, why you need to protest, the Austin Monitor has a great discussion on soundcloud.

While I can see my obvious bias, as I said in my July 4th post, I for one would rather opt for a state income tax, even if that meant I would end up paying more tax. That though is very unlikely to ever happen in Texas, and so until then we have to push back and get to a point where businesses and commercial property owners pay their fair share.

Why bias? Well, I’m in my 50’s, I won’t be working for ever, and my income will then drop off sharply. At least as it currently stands, I plan to stay were I am.

Author: Mark Cathcart

Formerly an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice".

7 thoughts on “Property Tax, Travis county, Austin”

  1. Nice article, however as a 50ish future retiree, your biggest issue is inflation. Prices of everything are out of control, so invest in Austin rentals and ride the wave of high rents so you can afford to live in dignity later on.

    1. Agreed, but it’s not about me, I’ll be fine. It’s all those people that have lived here all their lives and now find themselves being priced out. Thank for the warning though.

  2. Mark, Be careful what you ask for…I too am a proponent of the State of Texas having an Income Tax; it is equal and “fair”. Currently, as property tax owners/payers, we feed the coffers to the tune of 53% of the states revenue as a mere 13% of Austinite voted last round and approved several “Bonds” that are paid for by (wait for it) property tax payers. If any property tax payer voted for the education bond; they failed to see that over 50% of their property tax bill paid into education already-the real question where is all that money going, Texas has repeatedly shown poor educational scores and there is an issue with supplies-WHY? More government and more money is not the answer. The problem is that the politicians may do just that but fail to adjust or change the soaring Property Taxes; you will have a DOUBLE WHAMMY.

    1. Thanks Linda, it’s a piped real any way, state income tax could only come in if they reformed property tax and there is a whole industry around that and given the number of taxing “districts” involved that would object. However, we do have to find a solution to the lower income and long established families.

      I heard yesterday about a woman in her early 60’s whose grandfather had built the modest house in Travis Heights, she lives in now. She fell behind because of property tax and helping two sons through college and is now being forced to sell to cover her propertytax+interest.

  3. oddly enough many of your posts make me not miss austin (save for the food) and only further cement the idea that texas has infected austin and no longer is “austin not texas”. I’ll stick with the west coast and boulder

    1. I can see that, as always, I am motivated when I see things that need improving, or fixing. How interesting would it be to just wax lyrically here about the freedom, choice, culture, athletic opportunity etc. that I enjoy here in Austin?

      don’t think its so much that Texas has infected Austin, I think the unbridled success of Austin over the past 10-years has bought with it legions of people, like me, who want the best that Austin has to offer, and don’t see why Austin shouldn’t improve all the bad things. I35 as it stands, is a total mess. It gets backed up most of the day, and the fumes, dirt and noise are pervasive anywhere within 1/2 mile. It needs fixing, but not as Colin hopes, by adding lanes.

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