ASHEVILLE – Property owners in the city’s historically Black neighborhood are among those most likely to face tax increases this summer — while those likely to see decreases live in one of the county’s richest enclaves.
That is according to figures presented Feb. 16 by Buncombe County Tax Assessor Keith Miller to the Buncombe Board of Commissioners on government-assigned property value increases.
The increases happened during a countywide reappraisal that by state law must occur at least every eight years. That is in order to keep the government-recorded values in line with the changing market, Miller said.
By region, all median values went up in the county, he said.
“The median percent change was a range of 4% to 27%. across the county, and the median value change was $20,000 to $92,900.”
Individual property owners may have seen wider swings with some values climbing much higher.
Owners can appeal the increases, but must do so before April 28. The appeal form can be retrieved online or by calling the tax assessor’s office at 828-250-4915.
The highest percentage increases of more than 26% happened in the historically Black residential area of Southside, as well as an area Miller termed “Central Asheville and east Buncombe” outside Black Mountain and Montreat.
The lowest percentage increase of 4% occurred in the town of Biltmore Forest.
Southside is in a Housing and Urban Development Qualified Census Tract, meaning at least 50% of households have incomes below 60% of the area median gross income — or there is a poverty rate of 25% or more.
Biltmore Forest, which is dominated by a sprawling golf course and country club, had a 2020 per capita tax valuation for homes and buildings of $662,106, according to a Citizen Times calculation. That is more than three times Asheville’s $183,199 per capita value.
Actual property tax bills won’t be known until commissioners and governing bodies of each municipality set their tax rates before July 1, the start of their fiscal years.
To calculate a tax bill, the rate is multiplied by every $100 worth of property tax. So, a $250,000 home, divided by 100 ($2,500) would be multiplied by the tax rate, which in the county is now 52.9 cents. That would give an annual bill of $1,323. Those living in municipalities, such as Asheville, Black Mountain or Biltmore Forest, pay a city or town property tax in addition to the county tax.
When values increase, governing bodies typically reduce tax rates to lower the burden. That reduction means that property owners with smaller rates of increase may see tax cuts while those with higher rates of increase see tax hikes.
Board Chair Brownie Newman asked who is eligible for assistance paying bills. Miller said those are people 65 years and older with incomes not more than $31,500, people who are permanently disabled and low income and veterans who are 100% disabled from service-related activities. He recommended those with questions call his office at 828-250-4910.
Southside has gotten recent attention as Asheville looks to make amends for urban renewal, a decades-long program that took place there and in other Black neighborhoods with the stated goal of reducing blight but with the effect of tearing apart communities.
No members of the public commented at the commissioners meeting about Southside’s lopsided increase. But a historian and Black civic leaders reached by the Citizen Times called for changes to the assessment system.
“This increase likely reflects the higher value of properties that have been lost to the black community through gentrification,” said Asheville historian Sasha Mitchell, who focuses on urban renewal.
Mitchell called for a “racial impact analysis” for government policies to flag when official actions have disparate effects based on race.
Asheville Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith, who has raised concerns about gentrification in the neighborhood, said the information did not seem new.
“Maybe it’s time to analyze the last 10 years of tax assessments and sales data to see if racial composition could be a factor,” Smith said. “We may reveal more, less noticeable, discriminatory practices that have managed to outlive the era of urban renewal and redlining.”
Long-time community activist Dee Williams said even a system deemed “race neutral” can lead to inequities for Black owners. Williams said most assessors have tools to measure inequities.
“From most studies of tax assessments in cities with larger majority-minority populations, poorer homeowners pay a larger assessment percentage wise,” she said.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.