Dateline Minneapolis: Mayor Rybak, won't you be our neighbor?

  • Article by: Steve Brandt
  • Star Tribune
  • April 28, 2009 - 11:29 PM

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak told us recently that he's focused on selling his East Harriet house, rather than where he'll live next.

But the mayor's impending move has attracted attention, both from those who'd like him as a neighbor, and those wondering about the property tax he pays.

Inveterate North Sider Buzzy Bohn and newcomer Ariah Fine independently extended similar invitations to Rybak to come on up to their part of the city.

Bohn is a public school employee and resident of the Folwell neighborhood. Folwell is part of the Camden community, which holds down the northwest corner of the city map. Bohn posted an open invitation on the Minneapolis Issues Forum e-mail discussion list.

"You should come look at the homes in my community," Bohn wrote. "There are lovely smaller homes for sale in virtually every one of the seven neighborhoods of the Camden community and you can get some great deals, what with all the foreclosures up here. There are also a number of homes and townhouses still for sale in the Humboldt Greenway. If you want to be closer to downtown, there are also homes and townhouses still for sale in Heritage Park.

"You have often said how much you like and care about north Minneapolis. Well, here's you chance to come join us up here. Get hold of me. I'll gladly give you a tour of the community and show you all we have to offer here on the other end of town."

Now, we're not holding our breath. Except during college, Rybak has been a lifelong resident of southwest Minneapolis. Old habits, like walking around Lake Harriet, are hard to break. North Minneapolis has only the relatively isolated Wirth Lake plus a couple of small ponds, with intermittent proposals to create a larger body of water.

Still, the North Side offers advantages that Rybak and others touted recently in a press conference announcing the second round of a home-purchase incentive program for buyers in high-foreclosure neighborhoods. These include affordability, good transit access and proximity to downtown. Bike lanes planned for Emerson and Fremont, connecting to downtown via 7th Street N., would speed triathloner Rybak on his commute to City Hall once they're completed next year. Moreover, moving to the North Side might shore up what has been the weakest part of Rybak's electoral base.

The affordability of North Side homes, many of which offer vintage woodwork and other features, is evident in home sales as low as $12,500. Granted, these steals have been beat up by hard use, and at age 53, we doubt the mayor is looking for a fixer-upper. But there are plenty of appealing as-is Victorians in the Old Highland area, and we saw a beaut just off Webber Parkway in Camden last winter that Dateline Minneapolis would buy in a heartbeat if we weren't already happily housed.

While Bohn is a North Side veteran, area newcomer Fine issued a similar invitation. He and his family of four moved to a duplex a block off Broadway Avenue W. in late 2007, and he blogged an invitation to Rybak, with a side tweet to the mayor. Fine sounds genuinely impressed by Rybk's commitment to the North Side:

"You've come out for events large and small, even when there were no cameras, to speak about the hope and potential of North. I've rarely spoken well of politicians and city officials when it comes to the forgotten parts of most cities, but I must say that so far it's seemed as if you are more then just empty words.

"As you look for a place to call home, I believe there is no better place than north Minneapolis. And if you believe the words that you've spoken about this part of the city, I think you believe it too. Many politicians can talk the talk, paying lip service and then turn a blind eye, but here is your opportunity to walk the walk. Move to north Minneapolis."

Neither had heard from Rybak as of this column's deadline.

A taxing matter

A couple of readers contacted us recently after an article about the mayor putting his house on the market. They connected the sale price -- just a hair under $750,000 -- and the tax bill of about $7,400, asking whether Rybak is getting off easy.

First, the mayor is asking $750,000 for his house, but that's a listing price, and the market will determine if he gets it. For property taxation, his home is valued at $503,800. Why the difference?

Two reasons that I can see. Like many property owners, the mayor benefits from a lag between market value of a house and the value the assessor puts on it. For example, I put a mortgage on my house in 2005 and found that the bank's appraiser valued it, conservatively I assume, at roughly $290,000. But the assessor's value at the time was $256,000. Assessments often seem to lag both rising and falling markets.

Second, the assessor estimates the value of the mayor's house at $545,000. But it's taxed on only $503,800. Why? Because he made an improvement that qualified under the This Old House law, like a number of Minneapolis residents with older homes. This law was an attempt to get people to invest in their homes by deferring some of the valuation for a period of years.

One can compare tax burdens by calculating the effective tax rate (2009 tax paid divided by 2008 taxable value) on a house. The mayor's effective tax rate is 1.46 percent. Mine was 1.41 percent. And for a condo resident at the Carlyle high-rise downtown -- one of those who raised the question of mayoral taxes -- the effective rate was almost exactly the same as the mayor's.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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