What Would Henry George Say?
Still Relevant, Still Poignant
By Hillary Hoffower
March 22, 2022
By Dr. Marty Rowland
On March 22, 2022, the Business Insider online journal published an article (see https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-a-ghost-condo-russians-sunny-isles-real-estate-2022-3) by Hillary Hoffower that tells a story about how wealthy foreign investors park money in high rise condos that never have tenants, but rather are owned by shell or holding companies that hide true ownership. This practice should be spotlighted in that it sucks the lifeblood out of cities where it is practiced, because ghost tenants don’t eat at neighboring restaurants or do anything to advance the local economy, including paying higher property taxes (developers often get 25-year tax abatements, so tenants don’t pay either) – it’s all about cashing in where cities are not looking out for the interests of their citizens. So now a boring story gets new life because wealthy Russians are doing it.
What would Henry George say?
Some cities are doing something about this theft of social wealth; theft because live-in tenants contribute, ghosts don’t, and if we had a choice, we’d want them to contribute too. Vancouver, for example, charges 3% of assessed value when a home is left vacant for more than 6 months out of a year (see https://vancouver.ca/home-property-development/empty-homes-tax.aspx). New York City does nothing, but rather takes pride in its celebrity tenants, whether ghosts or not (see https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmareynolds/2021/10/27/here-is-what-celebrities-look-for-when-buying-a-new-york-city-home/?sh=66a0c8624592). So, let’s join the Russian-bashers and claw back the economic rent they are allowed to rake in. Maybe then we can learn to love bashing other ghost tenants in this same boat, even if they are not Russian for the sake of our cities.
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