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ACLU sues Jackson County and assessor over reassessments

Jackson County and its assessor favored predominately white areas over minority neighborhoods during this year’s reassessment process, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The lawsuit claims the county and the director of the county’s claims assessment department, Gail McCann Beatty, violated the federal Fair Housing Act during the reassessment process. It was filed on behalf of four predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhoods in Kansas City.

The ACLU said nearly 24,000 properties were assessed at double or more than their previous assessed values last year, and those increases hit black and Hispanic neighborhoods the hardest.

In Missouri, assessors are prohibited from increasing a residential property’s value by more than 15 percent unless a physical inspection is done. Beatty capped increases at 14.9 percent for properties in mostly white neighborhoods but did not apply the same cap evenly in black and Hispanic neighborhoods, according to the lawsuit.

In mostly white neighborhoods, 54.5 percent of properties initially marked for a greater than 15 percent increase instead were capped at 14.9 percent. In mostly black or Hispanic neighborhoods, just 1.33 percent of properties marked for a greater than 15 percent increase benefited from the cap, the ACLU contends.

“Longtime Kansas City homeowners are terrified,” Anthony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri, said in a news release. “Their very homes are at risk because of a discriminatory ploy to bring in more tax revenue.”

The county did not return messages seeking comment on the lawsuit.

Beatty, who is black, has said it was “a coincidence of the process” that mostly white neighborhoods were more likely to benefit from the cap than areas where most of the homeowners are minorities, The Kansas City Star reported.

The Board of Equalization has received 18,000 appeals of the the assessed valuations and won’t finish hearing them until next year.