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Excerpted From: Mark Dorosin, The Battle of Brandy Creek: How One Black Community Fought Annexation, Tax Revaluation, and Displacement, 72 South Carolina Law Review 817 (Spring, 2021) (184 Footnotes) (Full Document)
The Brandy Creek community is a working class, Black neighborhood located just east of I-95, south of Weldon, North Carolina. In 2005, this rural neighborhood and its surrounding land were legislatively annexed into the city of Roanoke Rapids as part of a planned economic development project. The decision to pursue legislative annexation allowed city officials to bypass the statutory notice and municipal service requirements of a city-initiated, involuntary annexation. Residents were never informed of Roanoke Rapids' intent to annex the community and had no opportunity to voice their opinions on the issue to town officials. In fact, the community first learned of the annexation several days after it occurred. As one resident said, “We went to bed in Weldon one night and woke up the next day in Roanoke Rapids.”
The city proceeded with the implementation of its planned redevelopment, which included rezoning all residential properties to commercial, without regard for the residents living there. When community members first raised concerns about preserving their neighborhood and quality of life, the city responded that the residents would see huge profits when selling their now commercially zoned property to developers. That residents might want to stay in their homes or preserve their neighborhood was never considered by city or county officials.
Within a few years, the redevelopment plan was a failure; the only property owner who cashed in was the neighborhood's largest (and absentee) landlord, and the sale of her property resulted in almost half of the community's residents being evicted. Meanwhile, annexation brought significantly new city property taxes for residents--a financial burden for many families. Residents began paying these taxes despite lacking many of the basic public services provided to other residents of the city (particularly sewer, paved roads, and regular police patrols).
In addition to the imposition of city property taxes, an additional tax burden was imposed on the community. Because of the countywide property tax revaluation, the neighborhood was reassessed pursuant to its new commercial zoning designation. As a result, property valuations and taxes in the Brandy Creek neighborhood rose an average of over 800% and as high as 1,400%, an intense hardship that further devastated the community. Residents struggled to make these inflated payments; many had their wages garnished to pay the taxes, and several were unable to stay in their homes.
But residents refused to be pushed out. They were determined to fight against racial discrimination and for what remained of their neighborhood. Together, residents organized first to demand municipal services and then to demand deannexation, tax equity, and ultimately refunds for the illegally inflated property taxes they were forced to pay. Against the backdrop of the city's ill-conceived and costly redevelopment plan, the plight of Brandy Creek stands out as an example of the disparate impacts of ostensibly “race-neutral” tax policies on Black communities.
This Article explores the experience of the Brandy Creek community as a case study of how property taxes, tax policy, and annexation (or the refusal to annex) has been manipulated by local governments to control, displace, and exclude African-American neighborhoods and to maintain and entrench the continuing legacy of residential segregation and discrimination based on race and place. Part II focuses on the city's plan to redevelop the area and the related displacement of the Brandy Creek community. Part III examines how the community organized to resist those efforts. And Part IV looks at some of the broader legal issues related property taxes, annexation, and residential racial exclusion.
[. . .]
The triumph of Brandy Creek was the result of dedicated community advocacy, civic engagement, and litigation. These efforts were aided in no small part by the broader community's frustration and anger with the city over the failed economic development plan. However, the neighborhood's success came at a high price--over half of its residents were driven out of Brandy Creek, and the eight-year struggle imposed enormous economic and physical costs on the residents that remained. Nevertheless, most are still in their homes today.
While all case studies are unique, the details are still useful to highlight certain patterns and commonalities. Brandy Creek was a Black community whose actual interests, needs, and priorities were ignored by public officials. The economic development plans those officials adopted were designed to remove the neighborhood, not to help its residents share in promised benefits of those plans. More disturbingly, city leaders assumed the residents would be happy to simply get paid and move elsewhere.
The city and county's treatment of Brandy Creek and the multiple and interconnected challenges residents faced because of the laws governing annexation and taxation highlight how such purportedly “race-neutral” policies are manipulated to adversely and disproportionately impact Black communities. This case study contains all of the elements of local government decision-making that, under the guise of economic growth, in fact entrenches institutionalized discrimination by race and place. Brandy Creek's experience ultimately demonstrates how tax policies in particular--because of their seemingly equal application--can effectively reinforce the segregation, exclusion, and ultimate displacement of Black communities.
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