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When Teardown People Come

by | Feb 20, 2019 | Top Right Box, Voices of Davidson

What was once a home on South Street was no match for this bulldozer.

(Editor’s note: this piece was contributed by local resident Dr. Shelley Rigger, a Davidson College professor of Political Science, with the focus of her teaching, research, and public service on East Asian politics.)

I believe in paying taxes. I really do. But there’s something galling about having your taxes jacked up because your neighborhood is being ruined. But when the teardown people come, that’s what happens: they demolish houses, clear-cut lots, squeeze in the most and biggest houses the law will allow, and sell each one for a ton of money.

And since property taxes are based on sales prices, when the teardown people come, your taxes go up. A lot.

When I moved to my home near downtown Davidson 16 years ago the neighborhood was notable for two things: big old trees and little old houses. The neighbors were a mix of educators, small-business owners, pastors, retirees, even a couple of lawyers. Our house was almost 100 years old when we bought it; we are only the third family to live there.

The location is fantastic, as long as you don’t mind living next door to a school and catty-corner from a bar that empties a dumpster full of glass at 7 AM. I don’t mind. I like listening to a middle school band practice and I’ve added my share of glass to that dumpster.

But since the teardown people came, it’s harder to keep a positive outlook.

The teardown people buy houses like mine: old houses with quirky doors and more bedrooms than bathrooms, small houses on big lots with plenty of room for grass and trees.

They buy those houses, and they tear them down. They yank out the clotheslines and garden sheds and raised beds and swings. They cut down the trees and scrape the lots clear.

One of the teardowns in my neighborhood had two gorgeous live oaks right on the property line. They were so tall they shaded half the neighborhood. They were also perfectly healthy; I know, because when the teardown people cut them down, you could see golden wood right to the center of the stumps.

After they finish clearcutting, the teardown people turn your neighborhood into a construction zone, complete with a port-a-potty next to your driveway; nail guns and air compressors running 10 or 12 hours a day, 6 days a week; a parade of heavy trucks with piercing back-up signals; building materials heaped up against the property line; rivers of mud running into the street and neighboring yards; pick-up trucks parked up and down your street.

Teardowns drive up the value of land faster than houses, which means once teardowns start, they don’t stop. To justify the value of the land, there needs to be “more house.” Little old houses and their big old trees just don’t cut it. Pretty soon, my home will be worth more dead than alive.

I understand all of this. It’s law of the market. I should be happy: we’ll get top dollar for this old wreck someday.

I also understand that I need to pay my share of taxes. And I will. But I’m not sure all my neighbors will be able to pay theirs. Some houses in this neighborhood have almost doubled in value in 8 years. I’m skeptical that their owners have doubled their income in the same time. We should pay our fair share, but instead of paying all of it now, maybe we could pay some of it when we actually have the money: in capital gains taxes, when we sell the house.

America has a housing crisis; Charlotte has a housing crisis; Davidson has a housing crisis. I don’t know what we should do about that.

All I know is, it just feels wrong to be taxed for living in a redevelopment zone where the clear cutting and the construction noise never stop. And it feels really wrong that folks who have lived here for decades could be driven out of the neighborhood because they can’t afford the taxes on Teardown Street.

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