Duggan announces changes to tax plan to address concerns by Detroit’s urban farmers ⋆

When Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced a proposal to increase taxes on vacant land earlier this summer, Tepfirah Rushdan started asking questions.

As co-director of Keep Growing Detroit and co-founder of the Detroit Black Farmer Land Fund, she had been advocating for farmers to purchase land to grow their own food. The question was: Does a farm or garden count as “vacant land” and would their taxes double under the proposed Land Value Tax Plan?

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, July 17, 2023 | Ken Coleman

After a slew of community discussions with fellow farmers and meetings with Duggan’s office, Rushdan is finally breathing a sigh of relief. At a press conference last week, Duggan and state Rep. Stephanie A. Young (D-Detroit) announced changes to the proposed Land Value Tax Plan that protect urban growers.

Urban farms, community gardens, and community spaces are now exempt from the tax increase and will not be affected by the plan, which aims to cut property taxes for Detroit homeowners while raising taxes on abandoned buildings, vacant land, and underbuilt property.

Additionally, side lot owners will only see a small increase in taxes, averaging $30. Many urban gardeners in Detroit have utilized the Detroit Land Bank Authority’s Side Lot Program to purchase vacant lots adjacent to their property for farming. The low tax increase applies to up to four side lots. Duggan announced the proposed tax plan at the Mackinac Policy Conference earlier this summer, but initially there was no mention of land being used for urban gardening.

“Farmers were calling me concerned because people have been encouraged to buy land, and through the Black Farmer Land Fund we’ve been purchasing land for people so it was just like, oh crap, we done bought all this land for people, and now they’re going to be stuck with this tax bill,” Rushdan said.

In early July, when Metro Times reached out to Duggan’s office with questions about how the Land Value Tax Plan would affect Detroit gardeners, they declined to comment.

“We’ll pass on the interview for now,” Stephanie Davis, communications manager for the city’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, wrote to the Metro Times. “As you probably know some parts of the LVT plan are still a work in progress. And at the moment we’re still looking to understand the current tax structure for urban farming properties so we can be able to address any potential issues.”

At the conference, Duggan said, “We have held more than 50 meetings in the past three months meeting with groups who would be affected by the Land Value Tax, including urban farmers, parking lot owners, scrap yard owners and more. The proposal we developed together provides homeowners with an average 17% property tax cut while protecting side lots and community land uses such as urban farms from seeing any tax increases.”

Rushdan was in several of those meetings. She told the Metro Times she was invited to a roundtable with Duggan and other farmers in late July, where they were asked to submit a proposal for ways to create an exemption for farmers.

“It was really productive,” she said of the first meeting with Duggan. “He came in and was like, ‘I know this is gonna be bad. How can we fix it?’ basically. … He asked us to draft a proposal in two weeks, and a lot of it was around how farming would be defined so that people couldn’t take advantage of it that weren’t necessarily farmers. I was impressed by the way he dealt with it. I know he’s wanting to move fast with this thing but he also took the time to sit and talk with different groups.”

Following the meeting with Duggan, Rushdan helped organize community discussions with other local growers for their input. After two community sessions and three meetings with Duggan’s office, the farmers submitted their recommendations.

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Under the proposed plan, 97% of Detroit homeowners would get an average 17% permanent property tax cut starting in 2025. Taxes on vacant land, however, would more than double from 85 mills to 189 mills to punish property owners who have allowed it to fall into disrepair, creating eyesores in Detroit neighborhoods.

Rep. Young will introduce the plan to the Michigan Legislature, and if approved, the Detroit City Council will need to vote to put it on the ballot for Detroit voters to decide. This could happen as soon as the primary election in February of 2024.

“I truly appreciate how Mayor Duggan gave the urban farm and gardening community the opportunity to participate in the process of developing this plan,” Jerry Hebron, executive director of the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, said in a statement. “Our feedback was taken seriously and incorporated into the final proposal, which exempts urban farmers and gardeners and the work we do from increased taxes under the Land Value Tax Plan. As part of our dialogue, the Mayor also has pledged to create a new Director of Urban Agriculture position in his administration to help us work more efficiently with the City.”

This story first ran in the Detroit Metro Times. Follow them: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

authored by Randiah Camille Green
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F09%2F07%2Fduggan-announces-changes-to-tax-plan-to-address-concerns-by-detroits-urban-farmers%2F

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