Guest Commentary

Homeowners who made Jackson County priced out with property reassessments

Craig S. Eichelman, state director of AARP Missouri
Craig S. Eichelman, state director of AARP Missouri

It has become abundantly clear that the system Jackson County uses for property reassessment is flawed. Longtime residents of our historic neighborhoods — many of them currently seeing new construction and renovation — could be forced from their homes. Many of these residents built the very character of the neighborhoods in which they live, making those places more attractive for redevelopment.

What makes our neighborhoods great is the people — the people who have opened and worked in small businesses, raised their families and fought to make those neighborhoods what they are today.

Unfortunately, Jackson County’s property tax reassessments seem to be targeting the same neighborhoods as real estate developers, who have a vested interest in rising property values. These speculators want to push out established residents because they, or their homes, are too old for the image the developers are trying to sell to new residents.

Add to that pressure the gut punch of a 50%, 100%, or even 200% increase in their assessed property value, and these homeowners are facing being forced from their homes just to survive. Older county residents and others on fixed incomes are left with nothing but hard choices: “Can I afford my medicines?” “Can I afford to fix my appliances when they break?” “Can I afford to stay in my house?”

Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. has some power in this situation — the power to order a review and possible reevalution of recent assessments. He can look into the systems in place that spur gentrification. He can help keep housing affordable throughout the county.

There are three things that must be done to change the situation in Jackson County:

1. The Board of Equalization extended the deadline for appeals, but its members have yet to actually go out into the community and hear the stories of the homeowners. They should get out of the courthouse and go to the neighborhoods.

2. Jackson County is the only county in Missouri with an appointed county assessor. It is clear that this has made the office immune to public pressure. Jackson County should change its charter to make county assessor an elected position.

3. Finally, our legislators in Jefferson City need to do their jobs too. They should implement a statewide law, similar to the one in St. Louis County that demands assessors visit in person any property that is seeing its assessed value increase by more than 15%. They should expand and strengthen the property tax credit, known as the circuit breaker, and then make it abundantly clear that county assessors should not raise assessments to market levels if it could force people from their homes.

This reassessment mess has put undue stress on our entire community. It’s time for Jackson County and the state of Missouri to take concrete action and provide relief to our neighbors.

Craig S. Eichelman is state director of AARP Missouri.