Dignowity Hill’s revival pushes property taxes up

‘People are being priced out of their homes’

SAN ANTONIO – Dee Smith bought an old, abandoned bungalow at a courthouse auction for $3,200, sight unseen.

“It was just like a haunted house,” she said. “And I almost cried.”

Now, 16 years later, it’s all fixed up, and it’s valued at more than $600,000.

“It started going up little by little,” Smith said. “Then it started tripling and quadrupling and now, it’s out of control.”

Smith lives in the historic Dignowity Hill, where property values are climbing through the gable roof.

Dee Smith shows KSAT reporter Marilyn Moritz a photo of her home in Dignowity Hill before it was renovated. (KSAT)

Data from the Bexar County Appraisal District shows how steep the climb is.

Ten years ago, the average valuation in the neighborhood was a very modest $41,350. Five years later, it more than tripled to $137,905. Now, it’s $270,220, a whopping 554% increase over one decade.

And that brings fatter tax bills. Those without over-65 or disability exemptions are hit particularly hard.

“People are being priced out of their homes, you know?” said longtime resident Evelyn Brown.

Brown has lived in the same corner house since she was about 10 years old and is a witness to the gentrification.

It’s apparent on the streets lined with grand Victorian renovations and modern builds right next to humble homes in disrepair.

For years, Brown has turned away the investors who’ve come knocking.

“Don’t care what they’re offering,” she said, insistent that she’s not moving.

She says many in the neighborhood have moved, partly because of enticing offers, partly because the taxes became too much of a burden.

“You know, one time you couldn’t give away the East Side. Now it’s like, ‘I can’t wait to get my hands on it,’ you know?” Brown said. “So it’s been quite a drastic change.”

While many house values have increased, it’s the land under those houses that’s seen the drastic leaps. The land is no longer dirt cheap.

For example, the BCAD valuation on one vacant lot that was $8,800 10 years ago is now $202,000.

Jaime Rowan is a realtor and broker who also calls a Dignowity Hill craftsman house her home. She was lured by the location, housing stock and vibe.

“I think is very appealing to a younger kind of working population who want to live in and around downtown San Antonio,” she said.

Deborah Logan is one of the young professionals who’s thrilled she just bought her first home.

She was drawn to the sense of community and Dignowity Hill’s rebirth.

“There’s always concerns because as values rise, sometimes your paycheck isn’t rising to meet those needs,” she said.

Property values are likely to rise even more because they follow the sales prices.

“So, the average sold price this year, so far, is around $338,000, Rowan said.

She estimates about a quarter of buyers are people moving into the neighborhood. The remainder, and most of the sales, are flippers, sort of a derogatory word among longtime residents.

“They don’t hate the fact that people are coming in and renovating homes. They just want them to do a quality job and abide by the rules,” she said.

Many residents are excited about the neighborhood revival. But, what residents want is for developers to respect the history and not pack four homes onto a single lot. They want some affordable housing.

They also want tax relief. But, if they are going to have to pay higher tax bills, they want something to show for it.

Merging old and new is a balancing act, one that Rowan is keenly aware of.

“Do I want to walk outside of my house and two blocks later, I’m at the best coffee shop in the city? Yes, but at what expense?”

That’s the challenge: how to build a future that’s fair to everyone who calls Dignowity Hill home.

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About the Authors

Marilyn Moritz is an award-winning journalist dedicated to digging up information that can make people’s lives a little bit better. As KSAT’S 12 On Your Side Consumer reporter, she focuses on exposing scams and dangerous products and helping people save money.

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