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Off-topic rant: Houston taxpayers subsidizing prime real estate for non-profit

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OK, this may seem very cold, but this story just rubbed me the wrong way. Here in Houston, there is a big controversy because the city wants to terminate the lease it holds with the Houston Center Serving Persons with Mental Retardation. The issue is that the center sits on a six acre piece of real estate literally across the street from the ritzy River Oaks area, which is the most valuable real estate in all of Houston and home to Houston’s super rich. Obviously because of its location the property is quite valuable. A local real estate broker told the Houston Chronicle the parcel was worth an estimated $26 million. The center leases the property for a whopping $1 a year!

The lease was signed in the early 1960s and was supposed to be a 99-year lease. However, a provision in the city’s charter dating back to 1903 dictates that the city may not lease property for more than a 30 year term. Because of this provision, the city’s position is that the lease is no longer valid and they are within their rights to sell the property to the highest bidder. The city has offered to allow the center continued use of the property at current market rates, although that number has not been specified. If the property is sold, city officials have indicated that they will do everything possible to make sure the center is relocated to suitable facilities (albeit on cheaper real estate) and it can continue providing services to the community.

Of course many in the city are playing this up as the city picking on the retarded and completely unfair, staging protests and whining to city council members and the media. What about the taxpayers, though? How is the current arrangement fair to the taxpayers who are subsidizing this? Granted, our elected officials in this town spend like drunken sailors and will probably piss away the money if they do sell, but isn’t it in the taxpayers’ best interest for the property to be sold and the center relocated? Why should part of the ridiculous amount of property taxes (not to mention sales taxes) I pay to the city on my humble $150,000 home subsidize anybody (I don’t care if it is a non-profit) to use a $26 million piece of property for $1 a year and pay NO property taxes at all? Remember that not only will the city collect the sales price of the property, but the property taxes generated will be yet another revenue stream for the city well into the future.

I’m sure that this organization does great work, but I just get tired these organizations and others accusing anyone who wants to use resources prudently of being an uncompassionate monster. You see this in other government spending as well when a program doesn’t work. Someone realizes a particular program doesn’t work, proposes the program should be cut, and is instantly attacked by others for being an enemy to the children/poor/elderly/minorities/(insert favorite special interest group here). This is Houston – there is plenty of land to go around, most of worth a fraction of the property they currently use. I don’t think it is unreasonable for the center to relocate at the request of the city, as it is the city who is basically giving them the land they are using. Sorry for the off-topic rant – just needed to vent on this one.

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April 11, 2007 - Posted by | Off Topic

1 Comment »

  1. […] City of Houston sells property at 77% discount! I posted previously about a sweetheart deal where the City of Houston was leasing 6 acres of prime real estate valued […]

    Pingback by Rant: City of Houston sells property at 77% discount! « Close Encounters of the Cheap Kind | April 23, 2007


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