The Oct. 15 front-page article “Tenants in path of D.C. renewal” might instead have had the headline “Affordable housing remedy missing in action.” It told a sadly familiar tale: tenants in wretched dwellings unable to afford decent housing elsewhere, and slumlords given a green light to oust their tenants and proceed with lucrative real estate projects. This classic gentrification scenario cannot be fixed with housing subsidies or rules requiring developers to offer dwellings at below market rates, as many housing advocates urge. These approaches at best help a tiny portion of those in need.
The problem is high land costs — the sites that housing sits on. Officials and their advisers ignore the one tax that, unlike others, lowers the selling price of what is taxed: The more you tax the value of land, the lower its price. The less you tax it, the more its value rises, making housing unaffordable. Thus, shifting the property tax off the value of homes and apartments and onto the site value spurs slum upgrading and new housing at lower prices, as over a dozen Pennsylvania cities have demonstrated.
By modernizing its property tax, the District could lead the nation in easing the housing crunch.
Walter Rybeck, Silver Spring