From the campaign of Laura Wood Habr, Democratic candidate for Virginia Beach Treasurer
Most of us know the saying “All Politics is Local.” Well, that’s never been more true than it is here Virginia in this intense 2021 election season.
Yet all too often voters ignore local races, with the (wrong) assumption that the outcome won’t matter much, in either the big picture or in their daily lives.
I’d like to disabuse readers of that notion, especially regarding one key race in Virginia Beach.
I am the Democratic Candidate for City Treasurer, running against incumbent Leigh Henderson.
In fact, how the Treasurer’s office is run can have a significant—and sometimes life-altering —effect on an entire community. And when you look at the contrast between these two candidates, you can see that “writ large.”
The basics of the Treasurer’s job are to bill and collect taxes, keep an accurate accounting of the money, and invest it wisely. Pretty straightforward. But within that framework there is a lot of margin for error, inefficiency and even inhumanity.
What do I mean?
Well, too often under the current Treasurer, mismanagement led to profound errors like losing significant revenue- making matters worse, we can’t tell you exactly how money went unaccounted for, because the Treasurer’s office won’t disclose it! They are equally opaque about the city’s investment strategy, including which financial institutions they’re using!
But the most damaging practices are those that directly affect peoples lives — losing their homes due to tax liens that could have been prevented.
Auctioning property over unpaid taxes is often unnecessary, and makes racial and income inequality — which is an enormous plague both nationally and regionally — even worse that it already is.
Yet, whether out of laziness, greed, or lack of compassion, Henderson levied hundreds of tax liens of properties over the past few years — these are often people on fixed incomes blindsided with emergency expenses, or victims of unethical lending schemes like subprime mortgages. Some are simply hard-working people who are struggling during a historically unprecedented economic and public health crisis.
It’s pretty heartless.
And it’s not even good business — at least, not for anybody except the auction companies, attorneys, and predatory lenders.
The sales of these properties generate modest returns for local governments, but windfall profits for tax-lien investors and their attorneys. New laws on the books make this easier than ever, and many local governments will be eager to offset their Coronavirus-pandemic-depleted budgets with just this kind of piracy. Worse still, many of these foreclosure sales are moving online to accelerate the abuse, as financial institutions and hedge funds snap up homes at enormous gains.
Yep; the foreclosure game is big business.
Is it any wonder that Henderson’s single-largest campaign contribution— to the tune of $5,000 — comes from an auction company?
In the last two years, these aggressive tax lien practices cost Virginia Beach more in the long-run and that’s without factoring in the incalculable human toll of housing insecurities, homelessness and despair.
And these aren’t just statistics — they are Faces. Families. Neighbors. Friends.
It’s an ugly practice that can be prevented with just a bit of creativity — compassion — and cooperation.
When pressed at a recent Civic League town hall meeting, Henderson claimed that not only were her auction company campaign donations NOT a conflict of interest, but that for me NOT to foreclose whenever possible was negligence and a violation of the law.
I believe that the position requires not an accountant, but a CEO-level decision maker and a community advocate, roles that color my decades-long resume of civic and businesses successes and accomplishments.
These decisions can — and should — be made intelligently, creatively and compassionately, on case-by-case basis — to do what’s right for both our citizens and the entire community. Yet a legacy of cronyism and a GOP dynasty have kept Virginia Beach locked into an old system that widens the painful and unjust economic and racial divide that has so fractured our country.
So if you think an office like City Treasurer can’t make a huge and positive difference, think again.
Vote for me, Laura Wood Habr, for Treasurer of Virginia Beach, and you’ll see that difference.