Protestors rally against high rises' property tax bills


Hundreds of people marched on Chase Tower, trying to get big building owners to pay more taxes. They argue that would help the city.

At a time when skyscrapers have fewer vacancies in downtown Houston and sale prices are going up, protestors say tax bills for those big buildings are going down. They're fighting their bills - just like lots of homeowners do - but protestors say the system is unfair.

They are the buildings that define downtown Houston. They are the shapes of our skyline, the homes to some of the nation's most powerful companies. And not surprisingly, the places where our area's largest property tax bills are sent.

On Wednesday, members of the Texas Organizing Project and striking union janitors marched on Chase Tower, downtown's tallest and owner Hines Interests' most valuable building. They carried a nearly $7 million supposed tax bill for what protestors say is unpaid property tax Hines owes because the system's been so successful fighting property tax appraisals.

"These large entities keep robbing us of monies that they are due to pay. Then we lose," said Roselyn Johnson with the Texas Organizing Project.

"But they're paying their bills, Roselyn," we said.

"They're not paying their fair share," she said.

Protestors say successful appeals have lowered the tax bills for buildings like these -- $6.6 million in 2011 alone, and $ $1.7 million of that would go right to the city.

"This week, the city of Houston is talking about their budget and how much more can that help," said Gloria Villareal with the Texas Organizing Project.

The protestors say the system works to benefit big companies because of access to high-priced lobbyists and lawyers. It's an argument that only goes so far, since every one of us can appeal and protestor Roselyn Johnson has.

"Have you ever appealed yours?" we asked Johnson.

"I have, twice," she said.

"How did it work out for you?" we asked.

"I don't pay tax any more," she said.

Yes, she is complaining about breaks to big companies, and at the same time benefiting from breaks the system gave her and homeowners across our area.

More money may help the city of Houston with its budget, so long as it comes from someone's wallet -- and who's going to volunteer to pay more first -- you, me or the corporations with the sky-high offices?

The Harris County Appraisal District does say it feels outgunned trying to increase the value of big buildings downtown, even when rents are going up and occupancy going down.

We called Hines twice looking for comment but heard nothing.

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