*. Associate, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz,. B.A., Morehouse College;
J.D., Yale Law School. Comments welcome to: email@example.com. The author
acknowledges thoughtful advice and encouragement from Alena Allen, Ian Ayres, and, above
all, Bob Ellickson.
‘ASSESSING’ DISCRIMINATION: THE INFLUENCE
OF RACE IN RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY TAX
Table of Contents
II. METHODOLOGY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
A. Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
B. Data Source . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
III.FINDINGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
A. General Evidence of Racial Disparity in
Property Tax Assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
B. Residential Type . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
C. Tenure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
D. Sales Price . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
E. Assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
F. Regression Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
G. Potential Criticisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
IV. PROBABLE EXPLANATIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
A. Assessments as Inducement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
B. Politics of Assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
C. Law . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
V. COURT-ORDERED REFORM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
A. Sioux City v. Dakota County, Nebraska . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
B. Cumberland Coal v. Greene County, Pennsylvania . . . . 42
C. Allegheny v. Webster County, West Virginia . . . . . . . . . . 43
D. Nordlinger v. Hahn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
E. Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
VI. STATUTORY REFORM AND PURCHASE ASSESSMENTS . . . . . . . 47
A. Purchase Assessments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
B. Other Advantages . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
C. Other Alternatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51
D. Criticisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
VII.CONCLUSION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
A. Selected Sales Data . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
B. Tenure by Census Tract . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59
INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
2 JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
1. See generally JENS PETER JENSEN, PROPERTY TAXATION IN THE UNITED STATES 288-92
(1931). This point is particularly salient in New Haven, where residents pay some of the
highest property taxes in the state. Residential property in New Haven is taxed at a mill rate
(the rate per $1,000 dollars of property owned) of $34.78. Besides that, citizens of Connecticut
pay out nearly the highest property taxes in the nation. In fact, at just over $1,500 annually,
the state has the second largest (after New Jersey) property tax liability per capita in the
union, almost twice the national average of under $800. For comparative data on mill rates
in Connecticut, see Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, Municipal Fiscal Indicators,
available at http://www.opm.state.ct.us/database.htm (last visited May 3, 2003). For data on
total revenue generated from property taxes in Connecticut and other states, see US CENSUS
BUREAU, STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF THE UNITED STATES (2002) [hereinafter 2002 STATISTICAL
2. In Connecticut, the numbers are lamentable. Only 31.4 % of African Americans and
25.9 % of Latinos are homeowners, compared to much higher national averages — 43.4 and
42.4 %, respectively. HOUSING STATISTICS OF THE UNITED STATES 240-44 (Patrick A. Simmons
ed., 3d ed. 2000) (providing data on historical homeownership rates by race) [hereinafter 2000
C. Census Tracts and Popular Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Residential property in majority-minority neighborhoods is
assessed at higher effective rates than similar property in majority-
white neighborhoods. That is, residents of minority neighborhoods
— namely, African American and Latino neighborhoods — face
assessments that are, on average, significantly higher than the
market value of their residences, while residents of majority-white
neighborhoods are, on average, assessed at significantly less than
market value. These comparatively high assessments ultimately
lead to high property tax bills for residents of minority
The possibility of racialized property tax assessments is startling
for several reasons. Most conspicuously, it means that residents of
minority neighborhoods might be paying more than their fair share
of public expenses that depend on property tax revenue. Or, put
another way, residents of minority neighborhoods face higher
effective property tax rates.1
Less obvious is the effect high assessments would have on
minorities who do not currently own their home: potential minority
homebuyers. That is, if minorities are paying more in effective
property tax rates, then, at the margin, the increased tax burden
may discourage some minorities from becoming homeowners. High
property taxes are a direct cost to potential homebuyers and, if too
high, they will dissuade some minority non-homeowners from
making home purchases. Already, minority groups nationally are
far less likely to own a home than non-minorities.2
Fall, 2004] ASSESSING DISCRIMINATION3
3. Kenneth K. Baar, Property Tax Assessment Discrimination Against Low-Income
Neighborhoods, 13 URB. LAW. 333, 335 (1981); see JENSEN, supra note 1, at 54.
4. See William S. Hendon, Discrimination Against Negro Homeowners in Property Tax
Assessment, 27 AM. J. ECON. & SOC. 125, 125 (1968).
5. Id. at 128-29.
6. DIANE B. PAUL, THE POLITICS OF THE PROPERTY TAX 35 (1975) (citing David E. Black,
Inequalities in Effective Property Tax Rates: A Statistical Study of the City of Boston 150
(1969) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, M.I.T.) (on file with author)).
7. Oliver Oldman & Henry Aaron, Assessment-Sales Ratios under the Boston Property Tax,
18 NAT’L TAX J. 36, 43 (1965).
Lastly, minority homeowners in some cases may also suffer from
relatively high tax assessments. If homeowners in, say, African
American neighborhoods face unusually high property tax
assessments, the value of their homes may ultimately decrease.
Inordinately high property tax assessments tend to drive down the
value of residential property, since property value is partly a
function of the property tax liability that its owner can expect to
pay. In other words, if the property tax liability is comparatively
high, this expectation will be capitalized into the price of the home
and prospective buyers will offer and, ultimately, pay less to the
present homeowner to purchase such property.3
Over three decades ago, William Hendon set out to analyze
whether African Americans in segregated neighborhoods in Ft.
Worth were assessed at higher effective rates than whites.4 African
American homeowners, he found, paid property taxes on
assessments right at market value, while white owners paid taxes
on assessments that were significantly less than the market value.5
With the insights of Hendon, one would expect other authors to
have thoroughly canvassed the possibility of race-dependent
property tax assessments. For instance, Hendon’s study, which was
based on a rigidly segregated housing market in the late sixties,
warrants comparison to the more fluid housing patterns found in
today’s urban areas. Moreover, in a time before the ubiquity of
computers, Hendon is only able to examine a small sample set of
homes and only for two neighborhoods, which even a modest
researcher might expand on today.
However, other analyses of the influence of race in assessments
have, to date, largely amounted to merely noting the possibility of
race-dependent property tax assessments. David Black, in an
unpublished doctoral dissertation, explored the possibility of
assessment discrimination in Boston, only to conclude that little
assessment disparity, about 10%, is explained by race.6 Also in a
study of Boston, authors Oldman and Aaron, both of Harvard,
concluded that commercial properties were over-assessed, as
compared to residential property.7 Importantly, the authors also
4 JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
8. Id. at 40.
9. Provocatively, in the conclusion of the article, the authors ask, but provide no answer:
“Are minority groups, the rich, the poor, or neighborhoods predominately of one race, religion,
or political party systematically favored or discriminated against in property taxation? If so,
do these patterns explain the Roxbury case?” Id. at 48.
10. See generally Rosewell v. LaSalle National Bank, 450 U.S. 503, 527 (1980) (noting that
“[t]he property tax is by far the most important source of tax revenue for cities and counties.”).
See also WILLIAM FISCHEL, THE HOMEVOTER HYPOTHESIS: HOW HOME VALUES INFLUENCE
LOCAL GOVERNMENT TAXATION, SCHOOL FINANCE, AND LAND-USE POLICIES (2001).
found that Roxbury, a majority-minority neighborhood in Boston,
pay taxes on some of the highest tax assessments in the city.8
However, they never fully explore their finding of possible race-
Consequently, in this article, I explore the possibility of
racialized property tax assessments. This is not a modern-day
rehearsal of Hendon’s study, but a more full and cogent analysis of
race as an explanation of property assessment disparity. This article
describes assessment disparity in twenty-eight neighborhoods in
New Haven, Connecticut. I examined sales-ratio data for over 1400
home sales in New Haven, Connecticut in 2000-2001. Sales-ratio
data compares the amount of cash a home sells for to the amount at
which it is assessed (assessment/sales amount). Based on the sales
data, I found that, indeed, residents of majority-minority
neighborhoods are assessed at higher effective rates than residents
of majority-white neighborhoods.
Although I found differential assessments against residents of
minority neighborhoods, I am not so bold as to suggest
abandonment of property taxes, which are regarded by most as the
keystone of local public finance.10 I do suggest, however, that
perhaps it is high time to rethink our allegiance to traditional
market-tied property taxation. I suggest that perhaps residential
property taxation ought not to be based on the purported market
value of property, as it traditionally has been in most places, but
based on the property’s acquisition, or purchase, costs. Such costs
are the only real measure of market value, since in the vast majority
of cases it is the amount an unrelated party would (and did) pay for
a piece of property.
After describing the research project in Part II, in Part III I
describe my findings. Shortly put, residents of majority-African
American and majority-Latino neighborhoods are assessed at higher
effective rates than residents of other neighborhoods. For instance,
on average, residents of majority-African American neighborhoods
and majority-Latino neighborhoods are assessed at an effective rate
sixty percent higher than residents of majority-white
Fall, 2004] ASSESSING DISCRIMINATION5
11. GEORGE E. PETERSON ET AL., PROPERTY TAXES, HOUSING AND THE CITIES 6, 120 (1973)
(proposing that “one of the most urgent tax “reforms” is to implement what is already legally
12. In order to come to some conclusions about the correct market value, assessors have
several arrows in their quiver. Under one approach, assessors look to the sale data of other
nearby comparable properties. Second, under the cost approach, assessors look to the value
of the underlying improvement to land. Third, under the income capitalization approach,
assessors attempt to figure out what the present expected value of a future income stream
from the property will be. Finally, I should note that assessors have increasingly turned to
sophisticated computerized appraisal techniques, which allow assessors to control for wide
range variables in valuations. See CONN. GEN. STAT. § 12-62(f)(3)(f) (2003) (providing for the
creation of a board to oversee computer-assisted mass appraisal techniques); JEROME R.
HELLERSTEIN & WALTER HELLERSTEIN, STATE AND LOCAL TAXATION 93 (5th ed. 1988); Bonnie
H. Keen, Tax Assessment of Contaminated Property: Tax Breaks for Polluters?, 19 B.C. ENVTL.
AFF. L. REV. 885, 890-91 (1992). For a discussion of the problems with each approach, see
Baar, supra note 3, at 347-52.
In Part IV, I try to put the findings in perspective, pointing to
several factors that might explain the over-assessment of property
tax for residents of minority neighborhoods. First, I suggest that
over-assessments of minority neighborhoods might be a way to
induce whites to stay in central cities, like New Haven. Second, I
argue that assessment discrimination may be the result of politics,
particularly the political nature of an assessor’s duties. Last, I
suggest that the structure of the law may disadvantage residents of
majority-minority neighborhoods. In Part V, I explore the legal
implications of my findings. I suggest that the current property tax
regime, with all of its inequities, may be vulnerable to challenge
under federal jurisprudence.
While there are many critiques on the property tax system, ideas
about reforming the current system are wanting.11 Thus, no critique
of residential property taxes would truly be complete to my mind
without sketching, however skeletal, the contours of a replacement.
In Part VI, I begin that endeavor. I suggest that perhaps the best
way to mitigate assessment discrimination, as evidenced by the case
of New Haven, is to take the human element out of property
taxation altogether. In other words, states and municipalities might
consider replacing the market-tied assessments with “purchase
assessments”; that is, assessments based on the actual cash costs
(i.e., purchase price) of residential parcels of property.
On their face, property taxes can be described as market-tied
taxes. Property tax assessments are intended to capture the market
value of a particular piece of property, or how much the property
would sell for in an arms-length transaction.12 Connecticut is as
good a case in point as any. According to the Connecticut code, for
6 JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
13. CONN. GEN. STAT. § 12-62(a)(b) (2003).
14. Id. § 12-63(a) (2003) (“The present true and actual value of all other property shall be
deemed by all assessors and boards of assessments appeals to be the fair market value
therefore and not its value at a forced or auction sale.”). The Connecticut statute is
comparable to that found in other states. See, e.g., W.VA. CODE § 11-3-1 (2003) (providing that
“true and actual value” means “the price for which such property would sell if voluntarily
offered for sale by the owner ….”).
15. CONN. GEN. STAT. § 12-64(a) (2003) (providing that all non-exempt property “shall be
liable to taxation at a uniform percentage of its present true and actual valuation, not
exceeding one hundred per cent of such valuation, to be determined by the assessors.”).
16. See, e.g., ROBERT A. DAHL, WHO GOVERNS? DEMOCRACY AND POWER IN AN AMERICAN
CITY (1961) (describing the power structure of New Haven); MALCOM M. FEELEY, THE PROCESS
IS THE PUNISHMENT (1992) (analyzing the behavior of lower criminal courts by examining New
Haven); Steven Gunn, Note, Eviction Defense for Poor Tenants: Costly Compassion or Justice
Served?, 13 YALE L. & POL’Y REV. 385 (1995) (reporting the findings of a study of over 200
evictions in New Haven).
17. PAUL, supra note 6, at 10-12 (describing how city governments routinely keep
assessment data secret from the public).
18. CONN. GEN. STAT. § 12-120(a) (2003) (providing that the Secretary shall present an
19. Interview with Terry Rodie Kennedy, Assessment Systems Manager in New Haven,
Conn. (Apr. 21, 2003).
instance, all property in a municipality should be assessed on
October 1 and at a uniform rate of seventy percent of “present true
and actual value.”13 Another Section informs that the “present true
and actual value” is the fair market value of the property.14
Connecticut even places a hard cap on the amount of tax assessment
that can be found at one hundred percent of a property’s market
value.15 Once assessments are determined, property taxes are meted
The remainder of this Part is divided into two sections. First, I
describe the method used to ascertain whether assessors meet this
mandate. Second, I describe the situs of the data: New Haven,
Connecticut, a city that, as home of Yale University, has frequently
captivated both student and academic authors.16
In contrast to historical data on property sales, today records of
realty sales are publicly available in many states.17 Current records
of all real estate sales in the state of Connecticut are kept by the
Office of Policy and Management and open to public view.18 Thus, as
one Connecticut official put it, cities are required to report to the
state “every step along the way.”19 The initial data set recorded
Fall, 2004] ASSESSING DISCRIMINATION7
Summary of Property Sales in 2000
(New Haven, CT)
Property TypeCommercial Residential Vacant Land
Source: Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (2000 Residential Sales Listing).
96 1736 28 1011961
4.9 88.51.4 5.2100
21. For example, some data did not include census tract information.
22. Sales for less than $10,000 were removed from the data set on the theory that such low-
cash sales were probably sales between related parties, such as sales between relatives, or
sales for non-cash consideration that goes unrecorded. There were twenty-four such sales.
Data set, available upon request, on file with author. See also Connecticut Office of Policy and
Management (2000 Residential Sales Listing), available at http://www.opm.state.ct.us/
database.htm (last visited May 3, 2003) (proving raw data on home sales in 2000).
23. See PAUL, supra note 6, at 4.
almost two thousand home sales (1,961) in New Haven in 2000, the
vast majority of those (approximately 89%) were residential sales.20
After dropping those home sales that did not include complete
information,21 commercial sales, sales of vacant land, and sales
seemingly for less than full consideration,22 the remaining data set
included just over fourteen hundred residential sales (1,410).
As I have done on the following pages, one can measure how
successful the market-tied taxation scheme is by comparing the
assessed amount to how much homes actually sell for. Such a
comparison — assessment over sales price — is usually referred to
as an “assessment-sales ratio” or, more simply, “sales-ratio.” To
simplify things, suppose that assessments are required to equal
market value, as is required in a majority of states.23 (This is a
simplification only because in Connecticut, as mentioned,
assessments are required to be 70% of market value, not 100%). In
that case, sales price ought to equal the amount assessed; and, in
turn, the sales ratio would be 100%, reflecting a one-to-one ratio of
assessment value to sales amount. Thus, homes selling for less than
100% of the sales-assessment ratio have been over-assessed and
property owners selling for more than 100% of the sales-ratio have
Suppose a particular home has a sales-ratio of, say, 50%.
Obviously the owner is paying only half the amount of property
taxes she should be paying. Total assessments in this case are
exactly one half the amount such owner could sell for on the open
market. Conversely, when homes have sales-ratio greater than
8 JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
24. At this point, a numerical example is warranted. Consider the property tax treatment
of a single family home with a market value of $90,000, which is the median selling price of
single family homes in New Haven in 2000. Also note that the mill rate, or rate of taxation,
in New Haven is $34.78 per $1,000 of Market Value. See Connecticut Office of Policy and
Management (2000 Residential Sales Listing). Thus, if properly assessed, such a homeowner
would owe property taxes of $3,130.20 ($90,000 x $34.78/$1,000). However, if the same home
were slightly over-assessed by 10% of its market value (sales-ratio equals 110 %) the owner
would owe $3,443.22 in taxes ($99,000 x $34.78/$1,000), a difference of more than three
hundred dollars in property taxes.
25. The vast majority of data used in this study come from two sources: (1) a database of
residential sales maintained by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management; and (2)
Census data maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau. See generally Connecticut Office of Policy
and Management, Residential Sales Listings, available at http://www.opm.state.ct.us/
database.htm (last visited May 3, 2003); U.S. Census Bureau, American Fact Finder,
available at www.census.gov (last visited May 3, 2003).
26. CONN. GEN. STAT. § 12-62(a) (2003).
100%, such homes can be said to be over-assessed — for example,
110%. In this situation, homeowners are paying too much in
property taxes.24 In New Haven, as it will be seen, homes in
majority-white neighborhoods are significantly under-assessed, as
compared to homes in majority-minority neighborhoods. This
pattern of over-assessment of property in minority neighborhoods
persists regardless of the type or residence (single family or
multifamily residence), the tenure of the residents (owners or
renters) or the value of the underlying property (inexpensive homes
or expensive ones).
For instance, consider Table 1, which summarizes the data used
in this study.25 It shows that the highest home sale in New Haven
in 2000 was over $2,000,000 (see Max.=SALEPRICE). Reading that
row across, from right to left, it shows that the average or mean
selling price in New Haven was just over $100,000. Meanwhile, the
table also shows that average assessment was little more than
$81,000 (Mean=ASSESSMENT) or only about three-fourths of the
average sale amount. Thus, it suggests that average assessment
were right at about 70 % of market value, the amount incidentally
prescribed by state statute.26
54 JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
161. See PETERSON ET AL., supra note 11, at 17.
their residential properties for “profit”, they realize no direct
economic benefit from rising home values that merits increased
taxation and or expansion in government spending. Of course, upon
sale, if there has been appreciation, current homeowners will realize
a windfall, but the state will be able to collect is portion of increased
wealth as well. The purchasing homeowners will pay the
appreciated price and, forever forward, the increased taxes.
Additionally, selling homeowners, assuming they spend the same
portion of their income on another residence, will also pay out the
windfall when they invest in a subsequent home purchase.
2. Non-Market Sales
Second, it is easy under my proposed assessment scheme, for
related parties to transfer property between one another for little
consideration in order to reduce the property tax bill. Admittedly,
the scheme does not handle non-market sales, such as those
between related parties or for non-cash consideration. It would still
have to be policed by a regulatory office similar to the current
assessor’s office, particularly to monitor sales between related
parties. However, the propensity to create sham sales in order to get
a property tax break could be checked by high penalties.
Alternatively, as in California, sales between related parties could
be disregarded for property tax purposes.
As to bankruptcy auctions and foreclosure sales, municipalities
would still have to perform assessments for properties that are sold
in forced sales. Otherwise, buyers would not only get to buy at fire-
sale prices, they would also get to avoid appropriate taxation. Such
sales, however, are fairly easy to monitor, because auctions are
generally public events and the government can require notification.
Further, because such sales presumably occur infrequently, a
municipality like New Haven would have to retain few assessors to
perform these tasks. Thus, even with this regime, there is a need to
force sales, sales between related parties and perhaps even
improvements to property, since the cost of improvements might not
always be a matter of public record.
3. Tenure, Revisited
Finally, it will result in discrimination against renters, since
landlords, in a tight rental market, will have little incentive to pass
along the benefits of the reduction to tenants by lowering rents.161
Many people in large cities, like New Haven, rent. As noted,
Fall, 2004] ASSESSING DISCRIMINATION55
162. See supra Part VI.B.
163. See 2000 HOUSING STATISTICS, supra note 2, at 236. Compared to its neighbors, New
York and Massachusetts, over the same period, Connecticut has consistently posted higher
vacancy rates. See 2002 STATISTICAL ABSTRACT, supra note 1, at 596.
164. See generally RICHARD POSNER, ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF THE LAW 482-85 (6th ed. 2003).
165. Hahn, 505 U.S. at 6 (noting that in 1989, 44% of pre-Proposition 13 homeowners pay
only around 25% of the residential property taxes).
166. See 2002 STATISTICAL ABSTRACT, supra note 1, at 30 (providing data showing that with
increases in household income, the frequency of home changes decreases).
relatively few residences in New Haven’s twenty-eight
neighborhoods (32%) are owner-occupied .162 Since minorities are
more likely to rent, this will cause a differential impact against
minorities. Shortly put, in some markets renters, which are
disproportionately minority, will be disadvantaged relative to
purchasers under such a scheme.
However, it is not clear that municipalities, like New Haven, are
tight rental markets. In fact, although vacancy rates have been
recently declining, throughout the 1990's the Connecticut rental
vacancy rate has exceeded the national average.163 Even more basic,
it is not clear that landlords will not pass along cost savings to
tenants, as most economists agree, that will pass along cost
increases in the form of higher rents.164
In any event, this problem is far different from the problem of
residential property tax discrimination. In the case of a tight rental
market, minorities are able to substitute away from rentals. In the
case of home ownership, the only way to escape the discrimination
is to move to majority-white neighborhoods. Of course, it is
impossible for all minority members to migrate to such
neighborhoods, because there is simply not enough of them.
Further, increases in the minority population in such communities
are directly related to increases in effective property tax rates.
Shortly, the fact that minorities disproportionately rent should give
us pause, but, more troubling is the fact that minority members
cannot escape discrimination based on property tax assessments.
Additionally, the scheme discriminates against “late-comers.”
Thus, those who bought their property late would have to pay
property taxes closer to the market value of the property. Indeed,
according to the Court in Hahn, a majority of the property tax
burden in California was paid by the late-comers, a disparity under
Proposition 13 that was expected to grow.165 My proposal might even
be somewhat regressive, since, as an empirical matter, there is an
inverse relationship between home changes and wealth.166 In other
words, low-income homeowners are more likely to change homes
than high-income homeowners, all else being equal. It follows,
therefore, that low-income homeowners will more frequently pay out
56JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
167. See Miller, supra note 153, at 119 (“[B]lack homeowners will bear a comparatively
greater tax burden than their white counterparts who were able to purchase homes earlier
because they did not have to overcome the barrier of racial discrimination.”).
168. See generally PETERSON ET AL., supra note 11.
169. 2002 STATISTICAL ABSTRACT, supra note 1, at 29.
170. Id. at 23 (providing that the population of the state grew by 5.8 % in 1980-1990, 3.6 %
in 1990-2000, and 0.6 % in 2000-2001).
171. Id. at 24.
172. Compare US DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, COUNTY AND CITY DATA BOOK: STATISTICAL
ABSTRACT SUPPLEMENT 698 (1994) (providing that, in 1990, there were 47,157 African
Americans in New Haven) [hereinafter 1994 CITY DATA BOOK] with CITY DATA BOOK, supra
note 83, at 648 (providing that, in 2000, there were 46,181 African Americans in New Haven).
173. Compare 1994 CITY DATA BOOK, supra note 172, at 698 (providing that, in 1990, there
were 17,243 Latinos in New Haven) with CITY DATA BOOK, supra note 83, at 648 (providing
that, in 2000, there were 26,443 Latinos in New Haven).
taxes closer to the market value of their home rather than a largely
fixed sum had they not changed homes. Moreover, since members
of minority groups are less likely to own a home, they are less likely
to realize an immediate appreciable benefit from the policy
change.167 In other words, many of the benefits would go to current
homeowners, who are disproportionately white.
However, the propensity of low-income homeowners to change
homes frequently and thus pay out a more market-type property tax
might cut in their favor. Minorities frequently live in low-value
neighborhoods, neighborhoods where the market value of homes are
often declining.168 As a result, if they are changing homes from one
low-value community to another, my purchase assessment scheme
ought to “save” them money each time they change homes; as long
as home values are declining, the market value of their current
home will always be less than the market value of their future
Incidentally, it is unlikely that this scheme will have a large
impact, since, in absolute terms, few members of minority groups
are moving to places like New Haven. For starters, only around
fifteen percent of Americans move in a given year.169 The state of
Connecticut, for instance, has not witnessed an influx of minority
groups, like it did yesteryear. In fact, the population growth of
Connecticut has somewhat slowed in recent decades.170 There are
few new people moving into the state from other states; there is,
instead, negative migration.171 The data also suggest that few
minorities are moving to New Haven from other cities within the
state. In fact, in the past decade, almost one thousand African
Americans moved out of the city.172 Although the city has seen
significant growth in the Latino population,173 there is no good way
to determine how many of these are non-citizens from abroad. In
short, overall, there are few new comers to the state and there is
reason to believe that few of these are members of minority groups.
Fall, 2004] ASSESSING DISCRIMINATION 57
174. See FISHER, supra note 73, at 4 (detailing major property tax revenue uses).
175. See STOCKER, supra note 139.
176. See, e.g., E.R.A. SELIGMAN, ESSAYS IN TAXATION (5th ed. 1905) (“[T]he general property
tax is so flagrantly inequitable that its retention can be explained only through ignorance or
inertia.”); see also FISHER, supra note 73; Note, supra note 95, at 336.
177. For instance, in one of the earliest treatments of property taxation in the United States,
Jens Jensen devotes a whole chapter to “Undervaluation and Inequalities in Valuation.” See
JENSEN, supra note 1, at 281-306. However, nowhere, in what is otherwise a comprehensive
discussion, does Jensen mention the possibility of inequality on the basis of race. To his credit,
however, at the time of Jensen’s writing, there were probably few good sources of statistics
on property ownership by race.
Residential property taxes are the chief source of revenue for
chalk and blackboards, playgrounds and park benches, sanitation
and sewage, police uniforms and fire trucks, sidewalk pavement and
streetlights, lifeguards and public beach cleanups.174 Still, the
public,175 the press, and the academy176 loathe these perennial
invasions of local duty. Save for passing observations, critics have
largely overlooked another failing of market-tied property taxation:
racialized assessments.177 As I have argued throughout, residents of
majority-minority neighborhoods — African American and Latino,
to be specific — are assessed at higher effective rates than residents
of majority-white neighborhoods. Furthermore, evidence of
racialized assessments persists regardless of whether minorities
choose to live in an expensive mansion or low-value, ramshackle
apartment building. Perhaps the solution to racialized assessments,
therefore, is to take out the human aspect of property tax
58JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
A. Selected Sales Data
Selected Sales Data
Fall, 2004] ASSESSING DISCRIMINATION59
B. Tenure by Census Tract
(New Haven, CT)
60JOURNAL OF LAND USE [Vol. 20:1
C. Census Tracts and Popular Names
Census Tract and Popular Names
CBD (Central Business District)
Long Wharf-Church Street South
1403Hill (4 City Point)
Hill (4 City Point)
Hill (4 City Point)
1406Hill (4 City Point)
1408 Edgewood-West River
1409 Edgewood-West River
East Shore (Annex)
East Shore (Morris Cove)