NEW ORLEANS -- Arguing that Orleans Parish Assessor Errol Williams should not be supporting corporate welfare, and that everyone deserves equitable and lawful property assessments, two Orleans Parish residents have sued Williams over his unconstitutional and illegal reassessment of a select subset of commercial properties in Orleans Parish. Williams reassessed select commercial properties, granting them privileged treatment over other similarly situated Orleans Parish property owners, cutting commercial property assessments by $317 million.
The commercial properties that benefited were mostly large national hotels and other commercial properties. Virtually no residential properties received reductions in assessed value, nor did many small businesses even though they are hurting due to the pandemic. In many cases, reassessments for residential properties rose. The overall property tax revenue increased from 2020 to 2021 due in part to the reassessment of residential properties. However, the City was unable to institute as large a reduction in the millage rate as would otherwise have been automatically implemented, due to the drastic decrease in total assessed commercial property value. As a result, every Orleans Parish property owner owes at least 7% more in taxes than they would have before the cuts.
The lawsuit argues that Williams violated Louisiana statute as well as the state and U. S. constitution by improperly under-assessing a select group of properties mostly owned by wealthy corporations, at the expense of everyday citizens. They are asking a court to find that the reassessments were improper.
Williams cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason for his reductions. But uniform assessment ensures that all tax paying property owners in the City of New Orleans contribute their fair share to the public coffers, not just a few.
Other defendants in the lawsuit include the Louisiana Tax Commission and the Orleans Parish Bureau of Treasury. The Southern Poverty Law Center is representing plaintiffs Rosalind Peychaud and Neal Morris.
The following is a statement from Andreanecia Morris, president and chairwoman of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.
“New Orleans is a place where people come to enjoy the culture. And here, again, is another policymaker subsidizing businesses who profit off our culture, instead of protecting the people who actually make up the culture. This is why we continue to demand that officials #PutHousingFirst.”
The following is a statement from Clara Potter, staff attorney for the Economic Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“This lawsuit is about basic fairness. It’s not equitable nor is it legal that large corporations are receiving tax breaks while residents and small businesses are being forced to pay more. We should be protecting all New Orleanians and their homes and small businesses, not leaning on them to subsidize deep-pocketed companies.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.
Perspectives from the community
The following is a statement from M.A. Sheehan, housing director, Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association.
"People in the Lower 9th Ward lose their homes for a few thousand dollars in unpaid taxes. To see huge corporations get tax breaks of a few hundred thousand dollars is an affront to the soul of the city."
The following is a statement from Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center.
"The Assessor's decision to give million-dollar tax cuts to hotel chains and shift millions in additional taxes to struggling homeowners in the middle of a pandemic is disturbing and cruel. We need relief for renters, homeowners, and small landlords, not more tax breaks for giant corporations."
The following is a statement from Oji Alexander, executive director of Home By Hand.
“The homebuyers we serve faced steep property tax increases after the most recent assessment. The notion that the low- and moderate-income homeowners of this City are bearing an undue share of the tax burden while large companies aren’t paying their fair share is unconscionable."
The following is a statement from Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes, chief equity officer, Ashé Cultural Arts Center.
"We can no longer contend, nor pretend, that our city's housing affordability crisis is the result of unintended consequences of development. We have enough data, studies, and over-analysis to clearly demonstrate that our civil rights are being viciously and repeatedly violated by those who are charged with protecting those rights."