Marshall: ‘If you’ve got a home you can afford, be thankful’

Waterfront property owners have affordable housing woes of their own. Read on for Islander columnist Becky Fox Marshall’s take on rising housing costs.

If you’ve got a home you can afford, be thankful
By Becky Fox Marshall

Bainbridge Island is arguably unique in many ways. But in many other ways, we are simply a microcosm of the greater society and world in which we live – dealing with the same problems and challenges.

That struck me last week, starting with a scary exhibition of road rage I witnessed in the post office parking lot, to the headlines Saturday stating that the lack of affordable housing topped islanders’ social concerns in a recent survey. That night, sitting around a fire with neighbors, skyrocketing property values was added to the evidence list.

We were talking about our Kitsap County Assessor property valuation notices received earlier this summer – of the five or six households present, all of their property values had risen – steeply – one more than 94 percent, several in the 80-plus percent range.

These are not fancy or new or ostentatious homes – many are occupied by a second generation, and most are in varying states of disrepair. Only two homes have sold in this neighborhood in the last three years.

My assessment actually declined.

I said it quietly, almost to myself. Not quietly enough.

They turned in shock, the beach fire casting ghostly, shimmering orange patterns across their open mouths.

“Just a tiny bit.” I squeaked.

Fortunately, they moved on, leaving me to my obviously unusual good luck.

It is shocking to see half a dozen homes (at least) suddenly increase in value more than 80 percent without any improvements. Property that is made up largely of steep, environmentally sensitive slopes prone to slides.

I don’t pretend to understand how property is assessed, but I do have faith it isn’t a completely arbitrary and capricious exercise. The county Assessor’s Office website says new values are determined by two approaches – sales comparison and replacement cost. I even downloaded a “Property Taxes 101” PowerPoint from the county. But my eyes glazed over and there were questions it couldn’t answer.

I did pick up a few things – that the county relies on property and sales tax about equally to fund services. Seems to me the burden still falls on property owners.

But I digress. In July of this year, a Kitsap Sun article titled “Property Tax Primer” centered around an interview with Kitsap County Assessor Jim Avery.

There are some taxpayers out there, he was quoted as saying, who don’t wish to believe that as long as a property’s value-increase is at or about the norm for the county (21 percent in ’07, and 10 percent in ’08), they won’t see much of an increase in next year’s tax bill. Uh, OK, but we’re talking about 80-plus percent!

Perhaps the levy rate per thousand decreases if the value increases at that steep rate? And I am assuming that the downturn in sales will show up in next year’s assessments. I doubt those values will drop 80-plus percent.

The article also pointed out that we are one of only seven states without an individual income tax, and one of four without a corporate income tax.

Might it be time we consider one or the other or both? What politician would have the gall to suggest such a thing?

We are not alone, and everything is relative. You can find parts of the country where people pay far more, and far less, than we do.

If you Google “top concern lack of affordable housing,” the search results come from Bainbridge, Salt Lake City, New York, San Francisco, nationwide in a 2003 survey by the National Association of Realtors; Devon (England), Seattle, Montana, Northern Ireland, Manitoba, New Jersey, Juneau, Santa Fe and Vail…. And that’s just the first two pages of 11.

Do the same with “top concern skyrocketing property values” and you get Bainbridge, Wilson County, Fla.; New York; Sutherland, Neb.; farmland in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin; Ontario; Boise; and New York’s Adirondacks.

The Adirondacs? Where those great chairs come from? You might just want to sit in yours for a while and, if you are in a home you can afford, be thankful. If you’re in the post office parking lot, be patient and chill out. And if you’re sitting around the camp fire, keep your mouth shut.

Becky Fox Marshall is a longtime island journalist.

One thought on “Marshall: ‘If you’ve got a home you can afford, be thankful’

  1. Becky,

    I feel your neighbors’ pain. Yours, too, but your assessment did go down a bit, so maybe not so much.

    According to > Wahington ranks 35th in the percent of income the average citizen pays in state and local taxes. In 2008, we’re paying 8.9% vs. the national average of 9.7%.

    When the economy dips, as it has in the past and will in the future, people naturally think their housing (food, fuel, everything else) is less affordable. It surely is.

    But at 35 out of 50 in state and local taxes paid, I don’t think we have much to worry about. States balance taxes between income, property and sales. We have higher property and sales taxes than some, but no income tax. Let’s not suggest, even in jest, that we set up another large bureaucracy to administer income taxes.


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