Progressive proposal from Kenya

detail from photo by Jennifer Wu via flickr (cc)
detail from photo by Jennifer Wu via flickr (cc)

Writing in Standard Digital, Charles Kanjama proposes that “If government was clever, it would include a value-capture approach in project financing.”  He’s writing about big infrastructure projects, which in his time (2014) and place (Kenya) include railway and port improvements. He suggests that perhaps half the cost should come from land value tax, without explaining why it would be appropriate for landowners to receive half the benefit of improvements paid for by the general community.  (Kanjama is an attorney and accountant who was rated among the top 100 legal minds in Kenya as well as one of the 100 most influential people in that country.)

The same edition (January 4 2014) carries another article showing a problem resulting from failure of the community to collect all the rent.  It seems that the government wanted to remove a large number of squatters who had settled in a protected forest.  Ordered to vacate, they each received 400,000 shillings ($4604.67 US, according to Wolfram Alpha) to purchase land elsewhere.  Now the time for relocation has expired, and many spent the money on things other than land.  Of course I don’t know these people, don’t know what land was available, don’t know their needs, but very clearly if land were nearly free (as results from a high land value tax) they would almost certainly be better off.

Progressive revenue move in Zimbabwe

Harare is now taxing residential parcels based exclusively on the value of the land, with all houses free of tax.  The net result is that most homeowners will pay the same or less, but owners of vacant plots will pay “a lot more,” with total revenue expected to increase from US$8 million/month to US$12 million/month. Authorities will not literally value every individual parcel, but assign values based on zones and size categories, providing a pretty good approximation of value at relatively little cost.

In addition to the 50% increase in revenue,

[T]he migration from land and improvements valuations to land only with the rates set by zoning was designed to encourage people to develop land fully or sell it to those who will.

According to the source article, houses in some parts of Harare had already been exempt before the change. Thanks to Gil Herman for the link.

Our local authorities, if they were serious about the need for more revenue without burdening residents, would seek a similar system.

And some Chicagoans might want to try Harare activists’ approach to the privatization of parking and towing.