The Steep Price of Paying to Stay

October 2014 / Abell Reports / Community Development
row houses in baltimore
Baltimore City's tax sale, the risks to vulnerable homeowners, and strategies to improve the process.

Baltimore’s long established tax sale of delinquent taxes and other municipal bills to the highest bidder enriches investors at the expense of the city’s poorest homeowners.

Under the current process a homeowner can lose a house – and all its equity – for an unpaid tax bill as low as $250 or unpaid water bills as low as $350. Reforms should be implemented that balance the city’s interest in collecting needed revenue with the need to protect our most vulnerable citizens, a new Abell Foundation report concludes.

The report, “The Steep Price of Paying to Stay: Baltimore City’s Tax Sale, the Risks to Vulnerable Homeowners, and Strategies to Improve the Process” outlines the complex process of the tax sale, its effects on Baltimore’s most vulnerable homeowners, and best practices from other cities. Former Baltimore Sun reporter Joan Jacobson authored the report.

The report’s recommendations include increasing the threshold lien amount eligible for tax sale of residential properties, lowering the rate of redemption homeowners are required to pay, removing standalone water bills from the tax sale process, and strengthening the city’s outreach efforts to vulnerable citizens facing tax sale.