Politics and the Suburbs: A Plot of One's Own

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Our February weekly series Politics and the Suburbs continues with Larry Levy, executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. Today's topic: Why the lure of property and low-density is such a compelling and contentious part of suburban life and politics.


Lawrence Levy

Comments [27]

Rick Gioia from Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY

I didn't understand Mr. Levy's correlation between McMansions and townhouses near transportation hubs as it pertains to the tax burden on the community at large. The point was made that a large home with a 20K tax is a drain on everyone if they've got three kids in the schools, each costing 20K/year. How would that deficit (40K in this case) be any different if that same family was in a townhouse near a train? I think the thread of the point was derailed a bit (excuse the pun).

Feb. 13 2010 12:42 PM
Pope Jon from Vatican’s basement in Hackensack

Funny, once you get outside of NYC’s commuter zone, cost of living goes way down, taxes go way down and people are a lot happier then in and around NYC. People who are held up in NYC by their own choice or not really need to see this is a huge country and there is life outside of NYC.

Feb. 11 2010 12:11 PM
to hjs

re 22 why do you bother saying things like that

Feb. 11 2010 11:47 AM
Jgarbuz from Queens, NY

Suburbanization, a.k.a. "the American Dream," has turned into a nightmare, and people must wake up to the realization that de-suburbanization and re-urbanization is virtually inevitable. We should concentrate on today's more limited resources on making cities better places to live in and write off much of exurbia as a failed experiment that has run its course. The economy in this new global economy can no longer support it.

Feb. 11 2010 11:19 AM
Chris Rosen

To Sara from Westchester.....

How about seniors who want to stay in small homes which have property taxes which have quadrupled in recent decades and have nowhere to go.

Feb. 11 2010 11:17 AM
hjs from 11211

to the caller who said people in NJ don't know local government is the one taxing the local property taxes.

if people can't figure out who is taxing them, then they deserve to be overly taxed

Feb. 11 2010 11:12 AM
Eric from Staten Island, NY

I think Staten Island has the best home prices with best schools and lowest home tax rates. You can view them at

Feb. 11 2010 11:10 AM
Sara from Westchester county

The perceived problem of property taxes being too high for seniors to stay in their homes is bogus. Homes that are large enough for a family, should be available for a family. Seniors should move to more appropriately sized housing; such housing will have appropriate utility costs, too. Seniors who stay in large homes should pay the high property taxes that go along with those homes as an over-consumption tax.

Feb. 11 2010 11:08 AM
Marilyn Murray from Chatham, NJ

I disagree with the caller who advocates merging everything into a county. Our town shares its schools with the other Chatham as well as ambulance service. Our taxes are high because the income tax in NJ is funneled almost entirely into the urban areas where they don't care about how much money they spend because they are not paying. We are the second lowest school district in spending in Morris County, but we are among the highest in test scores. There si a lot more to education that amount of money spent on schools, but no one wants address that issue. It is the time that is spend outside of school that makes the difference in students, and no amount of money spent on schools can change the home life of students.

Feb. 11 2010 11:05 AM
Chris Rosen

The cost of services certainly does come out of our property taxes. Our town highway budget is huge.

Changing property tax funding from assessment based to income based is the best idea around for correcting this problem.

Feb. 11 2010 10:59 AM



Feb. 11 2010 10:59 AM

Why do people without kids have to pay for schools?

Feb. 11 2010 10:58 AM
Paul from Westchester County

One of the pressures on property taxes around here is illegal housing. Basement apartments, people buying houses and renting out each room as a bedroom, etc, decreases the property tax revenue while increasing the amount of students in the school system.

They talk and talk about code enforcement, yet nothing is ever done.

Feb. 11 2010 10:58 AM
Marie from Connecticut

We also bought in CT as opposed to Westchester because we got twice as much house and land for half the taxes. The schools are just as good if not better here in CT. The only difference I can see is in the services provided by the town. For example, our town does not provide garbage pickup; we have to pay for a private company or take our trash to the dump ourselves for $5 per visit. I can live with that and only pay $7000 property tax instead of $15,000 plus.

Feb. 11 2010 10:57 AM
John Massengale from Congress for the New Urbanism

Mr. Levy is right. The cost of providing services to exurban sprawl -- utilities, snow plowing, road maintenance, school buses, police patrols, etc. -- is not covered by taxes. If we taxed by use, the household where children could walk to school would not pay for the enormously expensive school bus systems. Out in places like Rockland County, they require large capital expenditures for what are in the essence the largest mass transit system in the county, but one in which the buses are inefficiently only used twice a day.

Feb. 11 2010 10:56 AM
Chris Rosen

I didn't get to finish a few comments on the air.

Those who have lived in these towns for generations (or even for 10 years such as myself) are being forced out, only because of too much residential development which creates much higher taxes, and because of the desire for amenities only from new residents.

We do not want more amenities, or more development unless it is proven to help us.

Commercial development doesn't work either. Look at any town that has a higher level of commercial development in your area. I'd be pretty sure their taxes are higher than more rural towns in the same areas.

Feb. 11 2010 10:56 AM
David Lorenz from NYC

I have theory that voter anger is mostly people who don't live in cities. I have lived in philly and NY for the past 20 years and life in cities has gotten better. Cities have improved greatly. The suburbs and country have not. Taxes have gone up, schools are worse.

Feb. 11 2010 10:54 AM
hjs from 11211

what did the guest mean they abolished a layer of government in CT? which one was abolished ?

Feb. 11 2010 10:54 AM
susan from nyc

Please explain why some counties charge 100% assessment of property value, as in Duchess County and less as in Columbia County. Thank you.

Feb. 11 2010 10:52 AM
BethPropper from Irvington, NY

I lived in New York City my entire life: Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan. It was clearly must less expensive than living here in the rivertowns (we moved 5 years ago). However, I take issue with your understanding that you can get a good public school in New York City. We moved BECAUSE of our local Yorkville public schools which were overcrowded and where my children could not get basic services like occupational therapy when they had problems with fine motor skills BECAUSE the level at which you qualify for basic services at school such at o.t. require that you be a clear special ed type of kid with SERIOus problems (in addition gym was in the cafeteria and there was no library and outside play was in a small concrete yard). So yes, I'm spending a huge amount of money on taxes and upkeep of the house is high (and we live in a modest 1800 square foot unattached house considered a "cottage" or "shack" by the McMansion people) BUT we could never get the kind of education we get here for the children for the price of those taxes. We would have to spend 40000 in tuition vs. 19,000 in taxes.

Feb. 11 2010 10:52 AM
Edward from NJ

I would much rather pay a county/local income tax than property taxes because the property tax bears no relationship to my liquid assets. If I lose my job, my property taxes don't go down. Also, if we replaced property taxes with income taxes, we wouldn't need to have all these stupid rebate tricks to help seniors stay in their homes.

Feb. 11 2010 10:49 AM
bernard joseph from brooklyn

on long island- start with the overpaid police force. nassau and suffolk county cops are ridiculously overpaid and are basically useless unless you'd like to get a speeding ticket on the LIE. cut their salaries first and see if that helps out wth the crazy tax levels on LI.

Feb. 11 2010 10:48 AM
Oscar from Long Island

The problem I have with property taxes is that they seem very arbitrary. Something like upgrading my windows to save energy can increase my taxes because supposedly my house is worth more. But I can't suddenly sell my house for a higher price, so it isn't worth more. Also, the way taxes are assessed leads people to do work on their homes without the proper permits or to stall the inspectors. I have neighbors with houses 30-50% larger than mine, but they haven't had the final inspections done so they've been paying fewer taxes than me for 2 years now.

Feb. 11 2010 10:48 AM
Steven from Cold Spring

My wife and I are in our 30's with a toddler and a few years ago we moved from Park Slope to a small village about an hour north of the city. We miss the city sometimes, but only for restaraunts and arthouse movie theaters. We owned in the Slope and we own here. Here is better. We don't lock our doors, we know every neighbor, our son doesn't need to be watched every second, we look out our window at a huge state park, and we aren't constantly reminded of the huge inequalities at work in city living: overlord hedge funders pushing the homeless out of the way. As for the taxes, since there are fewer of us here, there is a diseconomy of scale in the price of our services. So be it. We get what we pay for, and we get a lot.

Feb. 11 2010 10:47 AM
asdf from Somerset County, NJ

A key player has become the property inspector.

Are there 3 families living in a 2 family home? 20 illegal immigrants including 10 who are school aged and learning English at age 12, renting in that stately old Victorian?

You wanna put your finger on the pulse of suburban home owners, this is topic number 1.

Feb. 11 2010 10:47 AM
Jane from Westchester

It's all about the schools. Son was born in Riverdale -- 30+ kids in a kindergarten class with one teacher and a part-time aide.

We moved to Rye Neck district - Mamaroneck NY ~19-21 kids in a K class w/ a teacher and a full-time aide.

No brainer.

Feb. 11 2010 10:46 AM

So Citigroup today announced it will continue to allow struggling mortgage holders to remain in their homes -- so long as they physically hand over their deeds to the bank.

This proclamation kicks of the only possible resolution of the long-simmering resentment, over property tax, by land owners toward renters. For before obtaining its coveted overlord status Citigroup must first transfer the burden of property taxes from owner, back to the peasant renter class. Easily slipped into TARP II.

With that, renters will once again pay their fair share, (and so much more!) for local services. Freeing Citibank to make our lives efficient, via the magic of Capitalism.

Feb. 11 2010 10:20 AM

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