We sneaked away this weekend for a last-minute beach retreat, courtesy of the 1%. Ridiculously luxurious surroundings, a feast for the armchair architect, but eventually I kept thinking the place needed an overhaul from Extreme Makeover, Monastery Edition — too much rich food begins to wear. (All the same: Lovely weekend and we are very grateful to our patron.)
But here’s what I want: Property tax reform that protects middle-class vacation retreats. My arguments:
1. There’s a legitimate need for retreat. To withdraw to some quiet, natural place and just be very quiet. It would seem self-indulgent except that even the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal agree.
2. For married people with children, a house or cabin or apartment with amenities for children seems appropriate.
3. In much of the world, there is a real shortage of monasteries set up for the drooling / yelling / jumping-on-the-bed set.
4. But it’s not so hard to find a nice quiet place near a good Catholic parish church.
5. Somebody’s got to own the house.
But here is what is happening in my state:
1. Ordinary families with normal middle-class incomes purchase land in some remote, unpopular, but peaceful location.
2. They erect a frugal structure suitable for family retreats.
3. For a while, family, friends, and guests (including complete strangers on tight budgets looking for a rental cheaper than a hotel), get to enjoy the retreat.
4. Then the area becomes popular, rich people buy up neighboring properties (no complaints there, rich people need retreats too), and land values rise.
5. So what? You still have your humble little family cabin.
6. Until property taxes are raised to reflect the increase of land values.
7. And your family has to sell the retreat. Because the taxes are so ridiculously high. The buyer bulldozes your cabin and builds a beautiful, tasteful, mini-mansion that rents for more than anyone you know can afford.
8. And then you don’t have anywhere to go.
9. And you know that if you buy a little retreat somewhere else, the same thing will happen again.
I guess one could argue that if you take the windfall from selling the place then you’re so much happier with all that cash from your investment. Except that a) you weren’t trying to invest for cash, you just wanted a family vacation cabin b) my experience is that the finances don’t end up working that well. The general consensus is that the family well-being was greater when the family had the cabin.
I’m not sure how you do this in a way that protects the family cabin without also making it easy for land magnates to hoard vast stretches for future development and not pay taxes on their accumulation. But that’s what I want.