With tax abatement for 5 to 15 years for renovated properties, the City of Richmond, Virginia, loses $14.6 million each year in real estate taxes. Meanwhile, long-time residents are pushed out by high taxes for unrenovated houses they own or rent.
"Although gentrification is nothing new, and is often driven by unstoppable market forces, there's no denying that Richmond's generous tax-abatement program has also served as something of a gentrification subsidy. While affluent Richmonders get a reprieve on taxes, the poorer neighbors are stuck paying higher taxes as a result of the improvements." Richmond offers the most generous tax abatement program in Virginia, but it costs the City millions of dollars in taxes that owners of renovated houses do not have to pay.
University of Richmond professor of urban studies John Moeser believes that the City's tax abatement program focused on luring a residential tax base lost to the suburbs. But it comes with a price. "The city would be heartless if it's just concerned with luring wealth into the city," Moeser says, adding that the surrounding counties' refusal to help develop low-income housing is fueling the fire. "Ultimately, this is a moral issue."
As poor families move out of neighborhoods, they also lose their social support networks. "In their little social microcosm, it's devastating," says Michaela Zonta, professor of urban planning at Virginia Commonwealth University. "They don't have child-care facilities. They don't have transportation. They rely on a very limited social network. I don't think it's just to simply forget about them." She points out that when low-income public housing projects are demolished, the adjacent properties are more attractive for investment. However, poorer neighborhood residents are forced out. She asks: "Are we playing chess with these people? What's going to happen to them?"