Nat Lownes

endtheabatement.com: visualizing the beneficiaries and inequalities of Philly's new construction tax abatement

I released a couple of new tax abatement projects today at endtheabatement.com:

scrolling thru endtheabatement.com on a seltzer machine

What is the 10 year tax abatement and why did you do this?

The 10 year tax abatement exempts new construction or significantly rehabbed (costing more than $40k) properties from paying property taxes on the improved portion of their property for 10 years. Often what this means is that people who can afford a new house are paying the same or less property taxes than their neighbors who live in older, smaller housing stock. Property investors who build rental properties almost exclusively build only market rate units in the most expensive neighborhoods and sometimes even pay to get out of affordable housing obligations.

In short, it’s a continuation of a perverse and pervasive concept in American society; your life and opportunities are valued and afforded according to your personal wealth.

The abatement is often credited for spurring property development and this claim is made without merit. Except for a study done by the Controller and research by Philly Power Research, all other studies claiming the abatement has had a positive benefit have been conducted by parties with financial conflicts of interest, most recently the Building Industry Association and the real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle.

However, existing academic research is cautious about the positive effects of tax abatements:

The review of the literature conveyed the sense that if effective, property tax abatement is only partially, temporarily, or conditionally effective, and that care should be taken to limit awards in such a way that positive net benefits can be achieved. (Mikesell, Zorn, Dalehite, 2005)

Philadelphia City Council should end the 10 year tax abatement. As one of the most generous tax abatement programs in the nation, there’s nothing worth reforming in the existing legislation. If City Council believes property tax abatements have net-positive effects, they should write new legislation that at a minimum includes sunset and giveback provisions without being detrimental to public school funding. It’s the least they could do.

As of a 2019 Inquirer poll, 57% of Philadelphians disapprove of the 10 year tax abatement.

Technical Details

Not only does the tax abatement forfeit money from our city and our schools to wealthy investors, real estate brokers, and homeowners, but attempting to look at it can also crash your computer or phone without special considerations. If you’re interested in technical details, read on.

Loading thousands of images from the jump is out of the question – the page would take forever to load and eventually your computer or phone would run out of memory. To solve this we’ll need to load slices of images and their representation in the browser right before they’re expected to hit the screen, and unload them after they’re displayed.

Luckily there’s a React library that does this called react-window. It’s rare that a piece of software handles every use case and has such a nice API. If you ever need to write software where you want people to scroll through an awful lot of things, I recommend react-window.

In trying to quantify losses as salaries or city services, a weighted random selection is used to mirror the actual hiring that might occur; i.e. teachers hold the greatest number of positions so the quantified number will reflect that. Hitting big ticket items like street sweeping are rarer, both because they’re weighted less and cost a lot more.

The End

Hope you enjoyed these projects and found them funny, informative, and a bit fucked up. Let’s end the 10 year tax abatement in 2019.