Racial Equity Evaluation of Residential Property Assessments in the District of Columbia


A recent working paper released by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth (WCEG) —and covered by the Washington Post on July 2—found that Black and Hispanic homeowners pay a higher effective tax on their homes when compared to what white homeowners pay on comparable homes, because Black- and Hispanic-owned homes are assessed at higher values (relative to what these homes sell for). So even when Black and Hispanic homeowners pay the same tax rate as white homeowners, their real property tax burden would be a higher share of the market value of their homes.[1]

The study looked at home sales across many jurisdictions in the U.S. by race of the seller and found that:

“…[w]ithin the same tax jurisdiction, Black and Hispanic residents bear a 10–13% higher property tax burden than white residents.”

How could this be? Most jurisdictions value residential housing using computerized mass assessment systems. And assessors rarely visit homes or know the race of the homeowner. How, then, could the assessment process result in a dissimilar treatment of owners of different racial and ethnic backgrounds?

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