Report reveals property taxes taken from poor far outweigh those from rich
Poorer Cook County residents pay higher property taxes than their wealthy neighbors when considered as a proportion of their homes’ values, according to a recent Chicago Tribune series of articles.
According to the Tribune, the series was the result of more than a year of work and analysis in which the paper worked with assessment experts to conduct a sales ratio study on the value of homes throughout Cook County. The Tribune also analyzed historic discrepancies in the county’s assessments and the prevalence of appeals in wealthier neighborhoods.
“From North Lawndale and Little Village to Calumet City and Melrose Park, residents in working-class neighborhoods were more likely to receive property tax bills that assumed their homes were worth more than their true market value, the Tribune found,” Jason Grotto wrote in the first part of the series. “Meanwhile, many living in the county’s wealthier and mostly white communities — including Winnetka, Glencoe, Lakeview and the Gold Coast — caught a break because property taxes weren’t based on the full value of their homes.”
Grotto told the stories of several Illinoisans, including a Melrose Park resident who moved from a 2,000- to a 1,200-square-foot home to save on property taxes. The new home, which she bought for $75,000, was assessed at $164,640. In contrast, a 2,600-square-foot house in Lakeview that sold for $1.4 million in 2016 was assessed at $787,000.
Grotto criticized Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, saying he has not put reforms or current industry standards in place, although issues in the assessor’s office stretch back decades, he said. In one part of his series, Grotto focused on several lines of code that were added to the office’s assessment algorithm that reduced property tax assessments by roughly 40 percent for years.
The Tribune series also covered property tax assessment appeals, which have increased substantially under Berrios.
“Wealthier neighborhoods appealed at much higher rates and regularly received significant assessment reductions even though homes in those areas were more likely to be undervalued,” Grotto wrote. “In poorer neighborhoods, homeowners not only are more likely to have their properties overvalued by the assessor, they are less likely to appeal.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and billionaire J.B. Pritzker has come under fire after earning appeals on property assessments recently, reducing his tax bill by more than $230,000 to date, according to an earlier report from the Chicago Sun Times.
In a statement, the assessor's office called the Tribune’s valuations and the analysis based on them “not sufficiently credible.”
“Fair property assessment is full of varying opinions and no valuation system is perfect but the Tribune’s opinions go far beyond a reasonable range of what could be drawn from the sales data it reviewed,” the assessor’s office argued in the statement. “In short, we strongly disagree with the Tribune’s opinions.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republicans have been pushing for property tax reform to be part of any new budget.
A day before the Tribune published its series, Rauner was in Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood rallying support for measures to make Illinois more economically competitive, including addressing the state’s high property taxes, according to the Sun Times. Just before the end of the spring session, Rauner visited Orland Park to champion a property tax freeze.
After the spring legislative session ended without a budget, Rauner expressed his disappointment.
"If a package included reforms to grow jobs and provide lasting, true property tax relief, bring down the cost of government and help to start the process of fixing our broken political system through term limits, if a package included that, I would support some new revenues," Rauner said, according to the Tribune.
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