Forbes: The 'Shouse' movement -- How Illinois' High Property Tax is Driving the American Dream Underground IL14

June 29, 2015 08:28 AM
By Adam Andrzejewski

In Illinois, government is driving the American Dream underground by forcing citizens to evade crushing property taxes with a new kind of dwelling – the “shouse” or shed/house.

For much of our history, a home or house was central to the American Dream. But, in Illinois, the “shouse” is fast becoming the strategy to avoid some of the highest property taxes in the nation. By downsizing to a “tiny house” dwelling – typically less than 1,000 square feet – property taxes are minimized. Put the “shouse” on wheels, and the tax burden evaporates.

Illinois has the 2nd highest property taxes in the nation, making the state a laboratory in statist economic experimentation. It’s no wonder it’s creating sad and weird creations like shouses.

Ever-escalating property tax bills are causing real pain for Illinois families. Last year, more than 10,000 DuPage County families were delinquent and faced a tax sale. Whether it’s downstate communities like Effingham or Northern Illinois villages like Addison, Villa Park, and in many areas of Cook County, a homeowner’s monthly property tax payment now rivals their mortgage payment.

It’s ‘private property,’ but as a practical matter, you’re paying a tax bill that looks more and more like rent.

As an economic refuge, the shouse has many disadvantages to modern living. It’s small. It’s loud – the tin roofs “pop” when expanding and contracting with the seasons. And it doesn’t come with modern advantages of pre-installed electricity, weather insulation, kitchens, or any other conveniences and amenities.

How did we get to this point and what policy changes can stop this odd trend?

One factor is artificially inflated public employee salaries and pensions, as shown in the data posted online at, coupled with the need to raise taxes to pay for this largesse. For example, many school district treasurers out-earn (up to $352,473) the state treasurer; park district managers are out-earning (up to $435,203) the state director of parks; 52 village managers  make more (up to $292,124) than every governor of the 50 states.

Just in the last five years, the number of educators earning more than $100,000 has doubled to 17,000. By 2017, more than 10,000 educators will enjoy a taxpayer guaranteed lifetime pension exceeding $100,000 per year.

In traditionally rock-ribbed Republican DuPage County things aren’t better. Currently, the top ten county employees make $2.021 million. In 2011, a county engineer earned $340,147 and then retired. Last year, Nancy Wolfe, a first assistant state’s attorney, earned $248,083, retired, and then was recently re-hired by the county board as an $185/hour ethics consultant.

Last week, the state legislature refused to pass a bill limiting extreme end-of-career severance packages within our community colleges. Property taxes and student tuition fund the community college system.

This year, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, board awarded a $762,000 “voluntary” severance payment to President Robert Breuder despite 500 people showing up in opposition. It's extreme that in Southern Illinois at small Lewis & Clark College, Godfrey, President Dale Chapman and his wife have salaries of $442,727 and $195,045. In 2012, Moraine Valley Community College, Cicero, paid President Vernon Crawley a final year salary of $674,210 up from $399,169 the previous year.

Illinois families and taxpayers need a freeze – a “timeout period” to catch up on property tax payments. Since 2008, home values across Illinois fell, but our property taxes continued to escalate. That’s not fair. A freeze followed by hard caps squeeze-out the public excesses like misallocation of resources, waste, and outright corruption.

Hard statewide property tax caps empower citizens with veto power on any increases beyond inflation (CPI). This policy properly realigns political power: government must persuade us rather than simply coerce taxpayers to accept large hikes.

The politicians have the mandate they need. Polling over the past four years indicates huge bipartisan majorities favor property tax relief. It’s good policy that protects the integrity of private home ownership and properly gives job-creating businesses clarity regarding future tax costs.

Not to mention, during the primary and general election Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner campaigned on hard property tax caps, won the election, and has staunchly backed the legislation. It’s time to slap a cap on our property taxes.

By doing nothing, the legislature will turn more of Illinois into a strange economic refugee camp of shouses - where there should be homes.

Adam Andrzejewski is the founder of the transparency website, and the Chairman of American Transparency.

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