In 1978, Mohammed Ali was easily the most famous person in America, Funkadelic topped the music charts, and The Wiz was just released. That year California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, profoundly changing the economic outlook for many. Along with wondering which Funkadelic album topped the charts it’s also fair to ask what is Prop. 13 and why is it important to me?
Between 1973 and 1977, property taxes on single-family homes skyrocketed, increasing by 50-100 percent. Families, seniors, and small businesses were faced with the losing their properties because they couldn’t afford to pay their property taxes. Many families were forced from their homes and small businesses were left with no choice but to raise prices.
In 1978 voters overwhelmingly passed Prop. 13, limiting property tax increases and putting an end to the days of unpredictable property taxes. Four decades later, Prop. 13 remains the only constitutional measure that helps control rising costs in California.
For small businesses and families of color, Prop. 13 has been a vital tool. By capping general property tax increases at 2 percent, it has allowed homeowners to budget for their future. For small business owners, Prop. 13 has provided certainty with their business costs. For you and me, it has kept costs down at neighborhood stores.
Today Prop. 13 is under assault. The timing could not be worse. A recent Wall Street Journal article confirms African American homeownership is at an all-time low, falling 8.6 percent since 2004. Weakening Prop. 13 will make housing more expensive, including for those who rent, and will have a profound impact on many small business owners who rent their place of business.
Homeownership is the primary path to building wealth and upward mobility for low and moderate-income families. A 2007 survey of Consumer Finances shows nationally that principal residences constituted 54% of all household wealth for African Americans.
Millennial voters of color, many of whom aren’t old enough to remember what it was like before Prop 13’s passage, need to understand that Prop 13 protects our community’s collective mobility. Now, more than ever, we have a duty to build wealth and be the sole proprietors of it. Weakening, or doing away with Prop 13 will hurt, not help, California’s African American community.
Business leaders, social justice organizations, veterans groups and more than 2,500 others have banded together to protect Prop 13 from becoming extinct. I am proud to include myself and the California State Conference of the NAACP as among those that stand in support of Prop 13.
The stakes are too high for consumers and homeowners, renters and businesses large and small. We can certainly be excused for not knowing Funkadelic’s chart topping album title, or not having seen The Wiz. That won’t cost us anything. But not knowing about the benefits of Prop 13 or the impacts if it were to go away, is not just costly to you and me, its costly for California and our economy as a whole.
More information can be found at https://www.fightforprop13.org
Alice Huffman is the president of the California/Hawaii NAACP and is also a member of the NAACP’s National Board. She runs her own consulting firm, AC Public Affairs, Inc.
Bay Area Policy Brief re commercial property tax reform.