California’s tax on inherited properties hurts minority communities | Commentary


Housing. It’s an issue full of inequities that continue to impact minority and Black families in California.

Whether it was redlining in the 1930s, a discriminatory practice of denying financial services to residents of certain areas based on their race or ethnicity, or racist language embedded in property records, people of color have battled housing inequality for far too long.

But despite the signing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, which outlawed housing discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin, housing inequality has not gotten any better – it has worsened.

According to the California Housing Finance Agency, during the entire 2010 decade, California’s Black homeownership rate was lower than it was in the 1960s, when it was legal to discriminate against Black homebuyers. For example, in 2019, the statistics show that just 40.9% of Black families owned their own homes compared to 68% of white families. In the 1960s, 42.4% of Black families were homeowners.

And now, Proposition 19, which voters narrowly passed last year, is making the dream of homeownership and passing along small family-owned businesses even more difficult for our next generation – particularly in Black communities. While Prop. 19 included positive elements, it also eliminated constitutional protections previously passed by voters (Proposition 58 in 1986 and Proposition 193 in 1996). Now when a parent or grandparent passes away, leaving behind a home or family business, their children or grandchildren are hit with a massive property tax bill while coping with the death of a loved one.This often forces an unwanted sale – destroying a family’s dream or small business in the process.

For Black families, homeownership is the primary means of building generational wealth and upward mobility. And small business development is often financed through a home’s equity. If we do nothing, the racial wealth inequity in California will only get worse.

That’s why we need to restore the property tax benefits that parents and their children enjoyed for nearly 35 years by passing the Repeal the Death Tax Act, which will be gathering signatures soon for the November 2022 statewide ballot.

This measure will allow parents and grandparents to again transfer their homes to their children and grandchildren upon death without triggering a reassessment and massive property tax bill.

In addition, this measure also restores the ability of Californians to transfer a small business, farm or other non-primary residential property, now valued up to $2.4 million and indexed for inflation, to their children upon the property owner’s death without triggering reassessment and a huge property tax increase.

That means children and grandchildren can maintain their family’s legacy – whether that be a home or small business. And, this measure will help keep the doors open for minority-owned small businesses in a state that makes it increasingly difficult to operate.

The Repeal the Death Tax Act is essential to setting up our next generation for success – something every parent wants for their children and grandchildren.

When a loved one dies, children and grandchildren shouldn’t receive a property tax bill so large that it forces them to sell their family home or small business. Instead, we must preserve the long-term wishes of parents and grandparents to pass on what they’ve worked so hard to acquire to their children.

When you see signature gatherers in front of malls, grocery stores and at farmers markets asking for your signature to repeal Prop. 19’s death tax, I encourage you to sign the petition and help qualify this commonsense measure for the ballot next November.

Edwin Lombard is the president and CEO of the California African American Chamber of Commerce.

Edwin Lombard Special to CalMatters | CONTRIBUTED

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