Developers, Church and Bank Properties on Tax Sale List

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This year’s D.C. tax sale inventory is a substantial and varied one, with properties owned by developers, banks and large non-profits totaling millions owed. High-priced condos also lead the list of delinquent taxes.

The annual tax sale, scheduled for July 18, has property liens ranging from less than $200 to more than $300,000. The Office of Tax and Revenue lists 6,200 commercial and residential real property tax liens for 2011, totaling $38.7 million owed.

Leading the parade of this year’s scofflaws was local commercial real estate magnate and developer, Douglas Jemal, whose many limited liability partnerships owed over $1.5 million on 41 different parcels. Surprisingly, Douglas Development, the contractor that built several Harris Teeter Stores in the District, is steadily receiving contracts for other city-partnered projects.

“I know it looks bad but it’s hard to comment on whether the city should continue to do business in situations like this because I don’t have all the facts regarding each property in question,” said Councilman Michael Brown (I-At Large).
But small business owners said it is a double standard.

“As a small business owner, you are required to have what's called ‘clean hands’ or it will be denied its license or government contracts if it owes outstanding taxes,” said Pam Johnson, an H Street business owner whose property is on the list. “It is unfair and anti-small business to allow millionaire developers to have ‘unclean hands’ and still do business in and with the District while the struggling small business is basically put out of business by the District until all outstanding taxes are paid in full.”

One Black contractor favored by the Fenty administration, Blue Skye Development, owed more than $21,000 in taxes on a property located at 44th and Hayes streets, S.E. The Marshall Heights Development Corp.; First Union National, Industrial, and TD banks; Union Temple Baptist Church, The International House of Prayer and Popeye’s are among some of the popular businesses and organizations with listings for next month’s tax sale.

Other high profiled properties listed are:

Gallery Tower LLC owed almost $355,000 on the old Chinatown CVS building
Apple’s flagship store, at 1229 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., owed short of $150,000
PEPCO in arrears for $310,000

A decaying mansion at 10th and C streets, N.E. on Capitol Hill, owed $103,609.

“By the time the list is made public, most owners start paying the taxes to prevent these properties from being sold,” said Natalie Williams, public information officer for the Office of Tax and Revenue.

Not too surprising, 31 properties on the H Street corridor appeared on the list. Since 2009, there have been 93 H Street properties listed for tax sales. Some were sold. Minority business owners said they have been hard hit by loss of revenue due to a four-year street renewal project that continues and increased taxes from new development. “The reality is, during the four-year-long, on-going, construction on H Street, N.E. our businesses were excluded from the $420,000 in taxpayers' subsidies that were handed-out in 2008, 2009 and 2010 exclusively to the newcomers on H Street, N.E.—bars, restaurants and clubs,” said Johnson. 

In 2009, there were 5,200 commercial and residential tax liens advertised with 1,068 properties being sold, yielding a total of $8.2 million in delinquent tax revenue.

In 2010, there were 6,100 commercial and residential real property tax liens advertised. It was reported that 1,622 commercial and residential real property tax liens were sold at several unprecedented tax sales: the annual tax sale, special deed tax sale, first-come-first serve sale, and the discount sale.  Delinquent tax revenue collected was $22.7 million. Longtime District resident Bertha Dudley seemed quite surprised that her home was on the tax list for $1,287. “I think it’s outrageous that the government keeps raising the taxes,” said Dudley.

Last year, Dudley remembered paying $800 for property taxes. “I thought something was wrong when I received another notice for an additional thousand for the rest of the year. Ever since our neighborhood started changing, the property taxes keep rising. It’s hard to pay on a fixed income,” said Dudley.

Professor Rodney D. Green, chairman of the Department of Economics at Howard University, said the relief measures the Council instituted for those on fixed incomes may help for a brief period but eventually are useless. “Diverted or not, the taxes will still need to be paid. The biggest issue is not the taxes per se but the construction of costly condos that drive up property values in the predominantly Black neighborhoods.”

Worried about how long she will be able to pay taxes that keep rising, Dudley believes the government is trying to push some residents out of the city to make room for those with more money. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I must before it’s too late,” Dudley said.