At Lincoln House

The Weblog of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

September 29, 2014

Cities at center stage

Photo (15)We are immersed in a wide ranging conversation about cities at CityLab 2014 in Los Angeles, hearing from thought leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors on the challenges of more sustainable and equitable metropolitan regions. Richard Florida led a panel with Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, who participated in a workshop on Legacy Cities at the Lincoln Institute in the spring, on the tough issues of gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs. America's top cities have inequality similar to many struggling third world cities, according to CityLab. In another workshop, former New York planner Amanda Burden posed the question, "Is gentrification inevitable?"  
Mayor Eric Garcetti spoke of deploying "urban accupuncture," and using technology to bring about a new sense of civic togetherness for a famously disparate metropolis. Henk Ovink, the Dutch water expert who is guiding Rebuild by Design, expressed hope that the all vulnerable regions will be better prepared to rebuild for greater resilience. In the 1953 equivalent of Superstorm Sandy in The Netherlands, he said, it took decades to put new systems in place. Even so, "no place is really ready" for the volatile events the future has in store.
    A session on the peer-to-peer sharing economy, including Brian Chesky, co‐founder of Airbnb, with James Bennet, editor‐in‐chief of The Atlantic, underscored the way that the Internet facilitates building trust and gaining credibility, allowing everyone to be an entepreneur, though concerns remain about regulations and fairness to incumbent regimes. UCLA's Donald Shoup joined Janette Sadik-Khan, principal at Bloomberg Partners, in surveying innovations in transport and parking, including variable pricing. Other topics included new forms of local manufacturing, promoting physical activity, farm-to-table and local food trends, innovation teams for city governments, big data, and aging in place.
     The next stop is Detroit and the Meeting of the Minds, an annual convening of practitioners, civic leaders, and technology innovators with which the Lincoln Institute has been longstanding partners. The first day will include a conversation about incremental change and big plans in Legacy Cities, post-industrial areas struggling with population and jobs loss.

September 19, 2014

Conservation leader Jean Hocker named Kingsbury Browne Fellow

     Jean Hocker, a former president of the Land Trust Alliance and longtime board member at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, was named as the next Kingsbury Browne Fellow at the Lincoln Institute. Hocker was also named the winner of the Kingsbury Browne Conservation Leadership Award by the Land Trust Alliance in recognition of outstanding leadership, innovation and passion in land conservation. The announcement was made at the Land Trust Alliance's Rally 2014: The National Land Conservation Conference, in Providence last night.
     The Kingsbury Browne fellowship and award is named for the Boston tax lawyer whose gathering of conservation leaders from across the country in 1981 at the Lincoln Institute evolved into the Land Trust Alliance, today representing more than 1,200 member land trusts. A special short film celebrating Browne’s life and career was shown at the Rally welcoming dinner.
     “I am truly humbled to receive the Kingsbury Browne Award,” Hocker said. “Over the decades, I’ve seen land trusts build on Kingsbury Browne’s vision to become a sophisticated force for conserving and stewarding irreplaceable land resources. I know that folks connected with land trusts are special – smart, dedicated, hard-working, results-oriented. To receive this award is to feel an invaluable kinship with my friends and colleagues who make land conservation a reality.”
      During her tenure from 1987 to 2002 as president and CEO of the Land Trust Alliance, Hocker played a key role in shaping the organization, ensuring land trusts have the tools they need to do their critical work, such as guidance through Land Trust Standards and Practices, extensive educational materials, resources for direct services, and a key voice advocating for federal funding and tax incentives for private land conservation. She continues to be active, consulting with land trusts and their boards, chairing the board of The Wilderness Land Trust, and serving recently as a member of the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. In the fellowship, she will engage in research, writing and mentoring, under the Lincoln Institute's Department of Planning and Urban Form.
     The Kingsbury Browne fellowship and award is in its ninth year. Previous winners were Larry Kueter, a Denver attorney specializing in agricultural and ranchland easements in the West; Peter Stein, managing director of Lyme Timber Co; Audrey C. Rust, president emeritus of the Peninsula Open Space Trust based in Palo Alto, Calif.; Jay Espy, executive director of the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation; Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society; Laurie A. Wayburn, co-founder of the Pacific Forest Trust; Mark Ackelson, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation; and Darby Bradley, president of the Vermont Land Trust.
     In 1980, as a fellow at the Lincoln Institute, Kingsbury Browne first envisioned a network of land conservation trusts, and convened conservation leaders at the Lincoln Institute in 1981. That gathering led to the formation of the national Land Trust Exchange, which was later renamed the Land Trust Alliance. Browne is considered the father of America's modern land trust movement, a network of land trusts operating in every state of the nation. Together these land trusts have conserved more than 37 million acres, an area the size of New England. Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Land Trust Alliance, based in Washington, D.C. and with several regional offices, represents 1,200 member land trusts supported by more than 100,000 volunteers and 5 million members nationwide.
      The Land Trust Alliance rally kicked off a busy fall for the Lincoln Institute on the topic of land conservation, with the publication of the Policy Focus Report Large Landscape Conservation and the establishment of The Practitioners Network for Large Landscape Conservation, a group of leaders and innovators on the forefront of today's conservation strategies. Prior to the Rally this year, Lincoln Institute Fellow James N. Levitt brought together three dozen representatives of private and civic land conservation organizations from 16 countries all around the world, to consider formation of the International Land Conservation Alliance, a similar network.
     Next month, the Lincoln Institute is a major partner in the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in Washington D.C. October 23-24. Sally Jewell, the United States Secretary of the Interior, will present a keynote address at the conference, which will showcase conservation innovations and landscape-scale solutions across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Krysta Harden, United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary, also will address the group, identifying key conservation provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill. In November, a Lincoln Institute delegation will travel to Sydney, Australia, for the IUCN World Parks Congress, where a new book, Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature’s Agent, edited by Jim Levitt, will be launched.

September 17, 2014

The conversation about land conservation

 

International large landscape gatheringIt’s a busy fall for the Lincoln Institute on the topic of land conservation, and particularly large landscape conservation. This week we’re headed to Providence, R.I. for the Land Trust Alliance Rally: The National Land Conservation Conference, where the life of Kingsbury Browne will be celebrated with a special video presentation. As a Lincoln Institute fellow in 1981, Browne brought together conservation leaders to form the Land Trust Exchange, which evolved into the Land Trust Alliance, the national organization dedicated to protecting land and natural resources throughout the U.S. Also at the event, the winner of the Kingsbury Browne Fellowship and Award will be announced.
     Prior to the Land Trust Alliance Rally, Lincoln Institute fellow James N. Levitt, a leading expert in conservation and conservation finance. brought together some two-dozen representatives of private and civic land conservation organizations from 16 countries all around the world, to consider formation of the International Land Conservation Alliance, a similar network.
     Next month, the Lincoln Institute is a major partner in the National Workshop on Large Landscape Conservation in Washington D.C. October 23-24. Sally Jewell, the United States Secretary of the Interior, will present a keynote address at the conference, which will showcase conservation innovations and landscape-scale solutions across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Krysta Harden, United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary, also will address the group, identifying key conservation provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill. Her advocacy in conservation has included improving economic opportunities through increased outdoor activities and expanding modern forest management, and being a champion of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a key part of USDA’s Farm Bill implementation effort.
      The Lincoln Institute published the Policy Focus Report Large Landscape Conservation: A Strategic Framework for Policy and Action in 2010, and has been instrumental in the formation of the Practitioners Network for Large Landscape Conservation. Finally, in November, a Lincoln Institute delegation will travel to Sydney, Australia, for the IUCN World Parks Congress, where a new book, Conservation Catalysts: The Academy as Nature’s Agent, edited by Jim Levitt, will be launched.

September 09, 2014

In the wake of Ferguson, regeneration in St. Louis

Washington AvenueSt. Louis was ranked 8 of 18 post-industrial cities studied in our Policy Focus Report Regenerating America's Legacy Cities, and the metropolitan area continued to make progress in planning and economic development. The revitalization along Washington Avenue, where turn-of-the-century garment and warehouse buildings have been renovated for adaptive re-use, was singled out by the report's co-authors, Lavea Brachman and Alan Mallach, as one success story. The rebirth along the boulevard embodied one of the major recommendations of the report -- that cities should take advantage of existing assets and strong urban fabric.
     On a recent visit that happened to coincide with the immediate aftermath of the police shooting and racial tensions in Ferguson, we toured a thriving business incubator in the Lammert furniture building called T-Rex. Brian Matthews, co-founder of the St. Louis-based Cultivation Capital, was managing the finishing touches on what he called an “entrepreneurship ecosystem,” including start-ups like Tunespeak and Less Annoying CRM. There are high hopes for St. Louis to become an alternative to the Bay Area, New York and Boston as a mecca for technology innovation. The most obvious edge is lower costs, for the businesses and their employees; a number of other medium-sized cities, such as Louisville, are seeking to take advantage of this strength.
     As promising as it is, however, this kind of regeneration has its limits, as Mallach points out -- particularly in terms of being inclusive in building the workforce. "Many residents of legacy cities lack the education, job skills, and labor force attachment for them to benefit from economic growth, whether in the city or its surrounding region," the authors write in the report. "While many legacy cities still contain large numbers of jobs, most of the positions are held by commuters. For example, there are 216,000 jobs inside the borders of St. Louis, yet less than 55,000 are held by city residents. Building the city’s human capital by increasing residents’ education and skills must be intimately linked with the city’s economic growth strategy to maximize the benefits city residents will gain from job growth inside the city."
     The promise of jobs and the creation of new amenities is also at the heart of another project, north of Washington Avenue -- beginning at the site of the ruins of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project, destroyed in 1972 after being deemed a failure. The city hopes to get the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency—the high-tech eyes and ears of the Defense Department—to relocate to where the towers of Pruitt-Igoe once stood. The facility, currently at the banks of the Mississippi River near the Anheuser-Busch brewery, would anchor the proposed NorthSide Regeneration project, spread out over 1,500 acres of largely vacant blocks, and including residential, commercial, and office space, plus a school and 50 acres of parks and trails.
     There are thorny issues of scale inherent in this project, however. The high-security facility requires a large footprint of as much as 120 acres, leading some to fear another superblock-style development. Proponents believe that good urbanism would sprout up all around, however, an outcome that would clearly be better than existing conditions.
     More detail on the story of Washington Avenue and the redevelopment of the Pruitt-Igoe site is available in this original post at CityLab.
     The challenges of regenerating post-industrial Legacy Cities will be the topic of a session at the Meeting of the Minds in Detroit beginning October 1, with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Rob van Gijzel, mayor of Eindhoven, the fifth-largest city in The Netherlands. The Lincoln Institute is a partner in the annual convening of some 350 thought leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors, focused on reinvention, technology, and "alternative urban futures."  

September 03, 2014

Assessing the property tax at IAAO

     The International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) celebrated its 80th annual conference in Sacramento, California August 24-27, and the Lincoln Institute’s Valuation and Taxation Department once again had a big presence.
     Senior fellow Joan Youngman addressed the subject of “The Nationwide Impact of Proposition 13: Lessons and Challenges” in a plenary session on the legacy of Proposition 13, that also included Larry Stone, Assessor of Santa Clara County, California; Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation; and professor Terri A. Sexton of California State University, Sacramento. From the reaction of the audience it was clear that California’s shift from a market-based property valuation system to an acquisition-based valuation system evokes strong feelings, both positive and negative. In her talk, Youngman compared California’s Proposition 13 with Massachusetts’ Proposition 2 ½. She concluded that property tax stability in California has been achieved at a heavy price in horizontal equity or the distribution of the tax burden across properties of equivalent value. She noted that Massachusetts’ levy limit was accomplished without moving away from a market-based valuation system.
     Lincoln Institute Fellows Daphne Kenyon and Sally Powers organized an education session on “Reducing Reliance on the Personal Property Tax: Pros and Cons.” In recent years several states have eliminated property taxes on business tangible personal property, and others have adopted or increased exemptions. This session included national experts on tax policy and tax administration: Joseph Henchman, vice president, Legal and State Projects, Tax Foundation; William Fox, professor of economics and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee; Ronald W. Rakow, Commissioner of Assessing, City of Boston; Robert W. Wassmer, professor in the department of public policy and administration, California State University, Sacramento; and Alan Dornfest, bureau chief of the Property Tax Policy Section at the Idaho Tax Commission. The panelists discussed such topics as the revenue implications of reductions in personal property taxes, the special nature of a tax on movable property and its effect on business location, challenges in distinguishing personal property from real property, and methods of reducing the record-keeping and reporting burdens on taxpayers and tax administrators.

August 13, 2014

New leader for Western Lands & Communities

      Summer Waters, a Phoenix-based specialist in water and watersheds, is the new leader the Western Lands and Communities program, a partnership initiative focused on shaping growth, sustaining cities, protecting resources, and empowering communities in the Intermountain West.
     “Summer’s diverse background in land-use and natural resource planning make her ideally suited to lead our Western Lands and Communities program,” said John Shepard, interim chief executive officer for the Sonoran Institute. “I am especially excited about her experience on water resource issues, which is a growing concern in the arid West and expanding part of our overall program work.”
     "Summer Waters will bring significant expertise and energy to this leadership position in our longstanding partnership with the Sonoran Institute, which has been a key focal point for our work on land issues in the West," said George W. McCarthy, president and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
     Since 2008, Waters has worked for the University of Arizona as the Water Resources Extension Agent for Maricopa County, which includes the City of Phoenix. Her programs addressed a broad range of issues related to water, climate, and the environment and received numerous awards including Arizona Forward’s Environmental Stewardship Crescordia and the Arizona State University President’s Award for Sustainability. Summer has also worked in California, for the County of San Diego’s Watershed Protection Program coordinating regional storm water education. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from the University of South Florida, and a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
     “I am deeply pleased to be selected to lead this unique partnership initiative, and looking forward to working to shape a new West – one that retains the elemental characteristics of an iconic past, yet embraces technologies of the future,” Waters said. “The community-based collaborative approach pioneered by the Sonoran Institute has proven to the most effective way to guide western communities through the challenges of an uncertain future.”
     The Western Lands and Communities program focuses on shaping growth, sustaining cities, protecting resources, and empowering communities in the Intermountain West. It addresses these challenges through applied research, tool development, exploring policy linkages between land and related natural resources, and engagement of policy makers.
     The Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit organization founded in 1990, inspires and enables community decisions and public policies that respect the land and people of western North America. Western Lands and Communities was led by Jim Holway until February 2014, when he left the position to run for elective office in Arizona. Summer will assume the leadership position starting August, 18, 2014.

July 24, 2014

Taxing the true value of land

LVT workshopThe land value tax is getting attention these days, mostly as a way to spur redevelopment. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to raise taxes on vacant parcels in outer boroughs. Legacy Cities are similarly interested in the theory that taxing land based on its value would prompt owners to improve the properties to start making a return. In recent years, Camden, New Jersey investigated implementation of a land value tax, and so did New London, Connecticut, where other redevelopment efforts led to the Supreme Court’s landmark Kelo decision.
     New London never moved forward on the idea, but recently Connecticut lawmakers passed legislation allowing municipalities to apply to participate in a  pilot program in land value taxation. Earlier this week, the Lincoln Institute held a special workshop in Hartford for elected officials, assessors and other tax officials to gain more understanding of how the tax might work. The event was moderated by Tom Condon, deputy editorial director and columnist at The Hartford Courant.
     Land value taxation, often introduced in the U.S. as a split rate property tax, is a separate tax on land as distinct from buildings, with the market value of land affected by factors such as location and size. Buildings generally compose the greater part of the base of a standard property tax. A number of communities in Pennsylvania have adopted or experimented with LVT, notably Pittsburgh, as well as several nations outside the US including South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and France.  “We’re not sailing in unchartered waters here,” said Richard England, a visiting fellow at the Lincoln Institute and co-author with Richard Dye of Assessing the Theory and Practice of Land Value Taxation, published in 2010.
     Robert Schwab, economic professor at the University of Maryland, began with a big-picture introduction,  considering the fundamental questions of whether a tax is simple, fair, and efficient – the best taxes, in the view of economists, being those that minimize distortions, or change behavior in undesirable ways. A classic example is England’s window tax; when assessment was based on the number of windows in a building, property owners simply built fewer windows or even covered existing windows, with disastrous effects for health, safety, and aesthetics.
       The least bad tax is the property tax on the unimproved value of land, said Milton Friedman, and the political economist Henry George believed that if land was taxed anywhere near its rental value, no owner could afford to hold land and not use it. But as noted by John Anderson, professor at the University of Nebraska, the link between LVT and the decision to develop is not totally clear.
     Adoption of an LVT presents two challenges: getting the assessment of land right, which requires keeping track of the sale of vacant lots, using computer assisted mass appraisal and GIS, and sophisticated sales data analysis; and minimizing abrupt shifts in the tax burden. Golf courses and car dealerships have objected to the land value tax, often through classic political lobbying, noted David Brunori from George Washington University and contributing editor at State Tax Notes. But otherwise landowners in the best locations – a mantra of real estate – will pay more, and in that sense the LVT is progressive.
     But the history of the land value tax in the US has been checkered. In Pennsylvania, some 20 cities implemented a split rate tax beginning in 1913. Seven of those communities revoked it, including Pittsburgh, according to Zhou Yang from Robert Morris University. Municipalities seeking to participate in the Connecticut program must put together a committee and do a study before proceeding; Jeff Cohen from the University of Hartford, looking at two potential candidates, New London and New Haven, advised a phased-in approach, starting with a split rate tax, potentially even targeted to just one neighborhood at the start. So far, no community has formally applied to be part of the pilot program.

July 22, 2014

Making sure affordable housing stays that way

     Inclusionary housing policies -- the increasingly common practice of requiring affordable homes linked to new market-rate residential development -- need constant follow-up and careful record-keeping to ensure lasting affordability, according to new research published by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
     Achieving Lasting Affordability through Inclusionary Housing, available for downloading as a Lincoln Institute working paper, is the largest research study of inclusionary housing programs to date. The research, by Robert Hickey, Lisa Sturtevant, and Emily Thaden, was conducted in partnership with the National Housing Conference’s Center for Housing Policy and the National Community Land Trust Network. A special webinar detailing best practices in inclusionary housing is being offered today at 2 p.m. Eastern time.
     Inclusionary housing, which link approvals for market-rate housing to the creation of affordable homes for low- and moderate-income households, are in place in 27 states and the District of Columbia, and in 482 jurisdictions overall. Nearly 80 percent of established programs are in three states – California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey – but interest is increasing, from North Carolina to Colorado.
     A typical program is to require that 15 percent of a residential development be affordable, with the affordable homes built on-site, off-site, or in some cases created through an affordable housing trust fund to which developers contribute. To ensure long-term affordability, jurisdictions must not only set a time frame for the homes to remain affordable – 30 years, for example – but closely monitor those homes to make sure they stay affordable.
     Good stewardship, the researchers say, requires strong legal mechanisms, effective monitoring for both for-sale and rental homes, and well- designed resale procedures to ensure that homes don't fall through the cracks, end up being offered on the open market at unaffordable prices, become lost to foreclosure, or fall into disrepair.
     Ultimately, the researchers say, effective administration and stewardship necessitates adequate staffing. The study identifies the growing practice of forming partnerships with outside organizations, such as community land trusts, nonprofit agencies, for-profit firms/consultants, affordable housing developers, and housing authorities.
    The researchers closely analyzed a set of 20 inclusionary housing programs, and for the 307 programs for which affordability period data was available, found that 84 percent of homeownership inclusionary housing programs, and 80 percent of rental programs require units to remain affordable for at least 30 years; and that one-third of inclusionary housing programs require 99-year or perpetual affordability for rental and/or for-sale housing.
     The case study analysis of 20 programs provides additional insights on the evolution of affordability terms over time, and the mechanisms needed to ensure the lasting affordability of inclusionary units. As inclusionary housing programs have matured, local jurisdictions typically lengthened, rather than shortened, affordability periods. In addition, almost all of the programs studied that have less than perpetual affordability periods restart their affordability terms whenever a property is resold within the control period. This requirement is helping to achieve lasting affordability in places that have not adopted “perpetual” affordability periods for legal or political reasons.
     But as the 20 case study programs revealed, achieving lasting affordability requires more than simply setting long affordability periods. Strong legal mechanisms, carefully designed resale restrictions, pre-purchase and post-purchase stewardship practices, and strategic partnerships are important for ensuring that inclusionary properties continue to be sold or rented at affordable prices, and are not lost due to illegal sales, foreclosure, or lax rental management practices.
     Key legal mechanisms help jurisdictions stay notified of illegal sales, improper refinancing, over-encumbrance with second loans, and defaults that could jeopardize the continued availability of inclusionary homes. These mechanisms include not only deed covenants, but also deeds of trust, the preemptive right to purchase, the right to cure a foreclosure, the right to purchase a home entering foreclosure, and requirements of notice of default or delinquency.
     Resale formulas are being designed to balance the goals of ensuring lasting affordability for subsequent homeowners and promoting wealth-building among homeowners. The most popular resale formula used by case study jurisdictions ties the resale price to the growth in area median income (AMI) over time. But other approaches were reported, including fixed-percentage, appraisal-based, and mortgage-based resale formulas, as well as hybrids of two or more of these approaches.
     Monitoring and stewardship activities are critically important for ensuring lasting affordability of inclusionary housing units. Effective stewardship of a program’s homeownership inclusionary portfolio includes preparing homebuyers for the responsibilities of homeownership, helping owners avoid pitfalls such as delinquencies or foreclosure, monitoring resale and refinancing activities, encouraging and enabling ongoing investment in property maintenance and repair, and staying in regular communication with homeowners. Effective stewardship of a rental inclusionary portfolio includes regular oversight over the leasing and tenant selection process. In some case study programs, this administration involved regular review and training of property managers, while others used in-house management of a centralized waiting list and tenant selection process.

July 09, 2014

George W. McCarthy joins the Lincoln Institute

George McCarthy1 (2)George W. "Mac" McCarthy officially began as president and chief executive officer of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy this week. McCarthy, most recently part of the leadership of Metropolitan Opportunity at the Ford Foundation, succeeds Gregory K. Ingram, who retired last month. In the July issue of Land Lines, McCarthy filed his first Report from the President
     It is an honor to follow Gregory K. Ingram as the fifth president of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and to join you for my inaugural issue of Land Lines. It will be a challenge to live up to Greg’s accomplished leadership and remarkably productive years at the helm of the Lincoln Institute since 2005. I hope that I can combine my skills and experience with the Lincoln Institute’s formidable tools and talented staff to continue its singular mission: connecting scholars, public officials, and business leaders to blend theory and practice in land policy in order to address a broad range of social, economic, and environmental challenges.
     Tectonic forces—natural, man-made, or both—are reshaping our planet. As we contend with climate change, accelerating urbanization in Asia and Africa, the aging of populations in Europe and North America, the suburbanization of poverty in the United States, and the financial insolvency of American cities, the land use decisions we make today will dictate the quality of life for hundreds of millions of people for the next century. Comprehensive plans and policies that equitably govern land use, political and social systems that ensure sustainability, and sound economic analyses to address these challenges are in critical demand and will remain so for decades to come.
     Lincoln Institute affiliates explore these matters in this issue of Land Lines. The 2013 Lincoln/Loeb Fellow Lynn Richards, incoming president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, lays out 10 nifty steps U.S. communities have taken to make their suburbs more pedestrian-friendly, with affordable housing to offset the suburbanization of poverty and with denser mixed-use development and public transit to reduce automobile use and help to slow climate change. Architect and 2014 Lincoln/Loeb Fellow Helen Lochhead discusses the winners of Rebuild by Design, the international competition that fostered design innovations that will integrate resilience, sustainability, and livability in the re-gions affected by Superstorm Sandy. Public Affairs Director Anthony Flint reports on the Lincoln Institute’s seventh annual Journalists Forum on Land and the Built Environment, which explored prospects for making smarter, more equitable infrastructure investments in 21st-century cities. Finally, in the Faculty Profile, senior research analyst Adam Langley discusses the Institute’s Fiscally Standardized Cities (FiSCs) database—a newly developed tool that will provide the foundation for important new analyses that will guide local responses to fiscal challenges in the United States.
     And just a little about me. Over the last 14 years, I worked at the Ford Foundation, where I occupied a unique perch within global philanthropy that allowed me to support, demonstrate, and test new approaches to solve vexing social problems. Some of my proudest accomplishments include founding the National Vacant and Abandoned Properties Campaign and helping to build and grow the nation’s field of shared-equity housing through collaborations with the National Community Land Trust Network and other partner organizations. I helped to design and then took leadership of Metropolitan Opportunity, the Foundation’s next generation of community and economic development programming, which seeks to reduce the spatial isolation of disadvantaged populations in metropolitan regions by integrating land use planning, affordable housing development, and infrastructure investment to better serve all residents.
     I came to Ford with a research background in housing, economics, and public policy analysis. I enjoyed the opportunity to work with scholars across the globe on issues as diverse as the birth of the environmental movement in Russia, the role of trade imbalances and debt in driving macroeconomic cycles, and the impact of homeownership on the lives of low-income families. I played the role of teacher and mentor to thousands of students and have tracked their successes with great pride. I presented research, advocated for policy change, and enjoyed successful collaborations with researchers, advocates, and public officials on four continents. And now I am delighted and honored to join you in this venture with the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

June 17, 2014

Protecting rural land, but not "fake farmers"

NY State landThe policy of lowering property taxes on rural land helps protect farms and vital ecosystems, but reforms are needed to curb abuses, according to researchers at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. John E. Anderson and Richard W. England, authors of Use-Value Assessment of Rural Land in the United States, also suggest the policy be fined-tuned to take into account fairness and whether housing or other development might be appropriate on some parcels.
     Across the nation, state and local governments have adopted a number of policies to regulate the conversion of rural land to developed uses. One of the most significant and least understood is preferential assessment of rural land under the real property tax, often called use-value assessmentor current-use assessment. Nearly all states across the country permit, and even require, local assessors to value some parcels of undeveloped land far below their fair market value for the purpose of levying local property taxes--in order to encourage their continued use to support agriculture, working landscapes, and valuable ecosystems.
       Despite their stated purpose of preserving rural lands from urban development, use-value assessment programs can have unintended negative consequences. One is erosion of the legal and constitutional principle of uniformity of taxation; another is shifting the local tax burden to other property owners, arguably in a regressive manner.
      Abuses are also a problem, as “fake farmers” enjoy low property tax bills, while using the land to sell firewood or Christmas trees to a few friends and neighbors. Others are clearly preparing land for development, taking advantage of the preferential assessment in the meantime.
     The authors review several ways of tightening eligibility and reporting in use-value assessment programs, such as raising the amount of revenue gained by agricultural use of land, and requiring better documentation of same; disqualifying landowners who have pending applications for rezoning, install survey stakes, or put in utility services not required for agricultural use; and stiffening penalties that are either nonexistent or weak.
     Use-Value Assessment of Rural Land in the United States explains the origins, key features, impacts, and flaws of use-value assessment programs across the United States as a fiscal tool for primarily farmland preservation. It describes in detail the process and characteristics of use-value assessment programs in 44 states, and recommends reforms that can serve as a road map for public officials, scholars, and journalists concerned with agricultural taxation and land use issues.
      John E. Anderson is the Baird Family Professor of Economics at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Tax policy is the focus of his research; he has advised government agencies in the United States and around the world and served from 2005 to 2006 with the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in Washington, DC. Richard W. England is professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire– Durham. His research concerns property taxation, land development, conservation, and housing markets. Together with Richard F. Dye, he edited the Lincoln Institute book Land Value Taxation: Theory, Evidence, and Practice (2009). Anderson and England are both visiting fellows at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.