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Hats off to 7 percent cap

Tuesday, October 28, 2003
Chicago Sun-Times
Editorial

People should not be driven from their homes because of skyrocketing property taxes. Yet a real estate market that is oddly robust, in contrast to some other economic indicators, threatens to do just that. Earlier this year, homeowners were shocked by property reassessments that were in some cases double what they had been previously.

Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan is responding with a proposal for what he calls the Neighborhood Preservation Homeowner Exemption, basically a cap that will limit the increase of the assessed taxable value of their homes to 7 percent a year.

This strikes us as a valid compromise between the need for a tax that reflects the real value of a property, and the need to allow homeowners, particularly the elderly, to stay in their communities, despite gentrification and property values that can seem surreal to longtime residents.

Owning a house is all about order and control -- you are not under the whims of a landlord, your mortgage remains the same month by month. There is no reason why taxes should be unpredictable and apt to leap upward at any given moment.

Home ownership is also about improvement: remodeling, redecorating, fixing up rooms, yards and neighborhoods. Yet fear of ruinous new tax bills has been so great that residents actually resisted improvements in their neighborhoods, fearful of the resulting leap in value that might force them from their homes.

Houlihan, who described his plan at a City Club luncheon last week, reiterates that this is only one step in a long overdue restructuring of the Illinois tax system, which must be reworked to ease the crushing real estate tax burden that undermines schools and neighborhoods alike. He called the 7 percent cap a "first step,'' but it is a good one, that will bring relief to homeowners during the already too long wait for real tax reform to finally snail its way out of Springfield.



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