Metro-East News

East St. Louis landlords say some tax bills are up 400 percent

A group of landlords and owners of commercial and residential property in East St. Louis is raising concerns about increases in property taxes.

The East St. Louis Landlords Association held a news conference Thursday to air its concerns. They said their property taxes in some cases have increased 200 to 400 percent, yet they can’t increase rent because tenants can’t afford it.

Walter Owens, president of the association, said commercial and residential landlords in East St. Louis can’t afford such steep increases in their taxes. He said the group wants to work with St. Clair County and fix whatever is wrong with the way their properties are being assessed.

“We want to know how they come up with the assessments. We believe there should be a mechanism in place that makes the process fair for everybody,” Owens said.

The county tax assessor was not immediately available for comment.

Owens and others in the group said they feel that East St. Louis and its surrounding neighbors, in the poor and mostly black villages, are being charged high amounts of taxes, while residents in Belleville, Swansea, Fairview Heights and O’Fallon are paying far less.

Wade Wicks, vice president of the group, clearly frustrated, said there is no way that the small business person in East St. Louis can survive.

“We’re locked into low rents, the debt service is more than the rent we collect. How can we collect $1,200 a month in rent and have $1,400 a month in debt service and repairs?” he asked. He said in some instances his taxes went from $2,400 to $9,400.

Nathaniel Jeffries, owner of Jeans and Things on State Street in East St. Louis, said he owns an apartment building at 2121 Martin Luther King, a property at 1516 State St. and another property at 1600 State Street.

“I have 27 units all together. Six of them are commercial and 21 are residential. For the property at 1600 State St., Jeffries said for the last six or seven years he’s paid $840 for the property. The building at 1516 State St. have gone from $2,500 to $3,500. In 2012, when he bought the building at 2121 State St., “I paid $3,500.”

Now, each of his properties taxes are nearly $7,000, Jeffries said.

“There’s no way I can pay all of that tax money. They are asking me for $30,000. I was paying $10,000. I am not making enough money on the properties to pay the taxes they are charging,” Jeffries said.

Keith Lewis, a member of the group, said, “I have two properties in East St. Louis ... a 12-unit apartment building and a four-unit apartment building and my taxes went up from $2,700 to $9,800. The four-unit building went from $4,200 to $8,000. My five unit in Belleville only increased about $200.”

Lewis said the group has noticed that the tax rate in East St. Louis and it’s surrounding communities is between 17-21 percent while Swansea and Belleville range from 6.72 to 8 percent.

Owens said the group wants to work with St. Clair County, but if they can’t get any satisfaction they will be left with no choice other than to appeal to the state.

“We want to know how and why they put so much emphasis on low-income cities. We can’t sell the properties for what the assessed value is. We can’t even get half,” Owens said.

Wicks said a bank appraiser’s assessment was nowhere near the assessment done by St. Clair County on his properties.

The group is concerned that if they lose their properties, 1,000 to 2,000 people could become homeless.

“Where will they go? Social Services has no money. The state is broke. Who’s going to house all of these people? The tax base will be gone,” Owens said.

“I have people on fixed incomes and you can only raise their rents so high. I want to keep their rents where they can be comfortable with one check a month. This situation needs to be resolved before it gets worse,” Owens said.

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503