During the 1980s, increasing numbers of blacks attained that most potent symbol of the American dream: a home in the suburbs. But in many suburban areas, an analysis of census data suggests, black homeowners are paying higher property taxes than whites on homes of similar value.
The analysis, done by Professor Andrew A. Beveridge of Queens College, looked at 30 cities and 31 suburbs and found that black homeowners are taxed more than whites on comparable homes in 58 percent of the suburban regions and 30 percent of the cities.In the New York region, the disparity was common on Long Island and in New Jersey. It was also prevalent in the suburbs of Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and eight other cities.
The disparities range from property tax bills that were 47 percent higher, or $412 a year more, for blacks in the Philadelphia suburbs to 3.3 percent, or $38 more, in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs.
Sociologists, politicians and tax experts said they did not think that the disparities stemmed from deliberate racism by the taxing jurisdictions or tax assessors.
Rather, they said, the differences probably resulted from several related trends. One is the flight of businesses from some suburbs as black homeowners move in and whites leave, saddling newcomers and those who stay behind, including whites, with a heavier tax burden.
Another is pressure on governments by wealthier, long-term homeowners not to reassess properties in a timely fashion, leaving a higher tax burden for newer homeowners, a group that tends to include blacks.
Beveridge's findings were based on the responses of blacks and whites who were asked by the Census Bureau for the market value of their homes and the property taxes they paid in 1990.
Because the analysis depends on homeowners' subjective estimates of their homes' value, it may be less reliable than more conventional studies of tax inequities that rely on data from actual home sales.
But the findings are consistent with those of other researchers who have used sales data to look at selected communities, and the census data provides a broader picture, allowing comparisons between regions across the country.
Beveridge's analysis, conducted for The New York Times, was inconclusive when looking at property taxes in major cities.
It found that while blacks paid higher taxes on comparable homes in nine cities, whites paid higher taxes in seven. In New York, blacks paid taxes at a rate 66 percent higher than for whites in Manhattan and 10.7 percent higher in Brooklyn, but when taxes on homes in the three other boroughs were included, the differences citywide were no longer statistically significant. In 13 other cities, as well, no significant differences appeared.
But a pattern of inequity emerged in the suburbs. In 18 of 31 suburbs, blacks were taxed significantly more than whites for comparable homes. In a dozen suburbs there was no statistically significant difference, and only in suburban Miami did whites pay significantly more.