JAPA Article: Value Creation, Capture, & Destruction

June 20, 2022

Article | Value capture schemes sound simple in theory – future revenues pay debt issued to cover upfront costs. But in practice, these financing mechanisms are highly complex and, as a result, can have unintended consequences on municipal finances. Research from SCEPA’s Critical Public Finance project published in the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA) offers a new frame to evaluate TIF projects based on the tool’s potential to create, capture, & destroy value.

Authors: Bridget Fisher, Flávia Leite, and Rachel Weber

Municipalities relying on tax increment financing (TIF) to underwrite large-scale infrastructure and development projects assume that tax revenues from the increase in property values will be sufficient in the short run to cover capital expenses (i.e., that projects are self-financing). By examining a case of TIF in action, we move beyond expectations about how TIF should work in theory.

Hudson Yards on the far West Side of Manhattan is one of the largest TIF projects in the United States in recent years and the first one implemented in New York City. We refined the conventional fiscal impact analysis approach by tracking costs and revenue flows of the project between 2005 and 2020 and comparing rents, assessed values, property tax appeals, abatements, and land prices across relevant submarkets.

Through this exercise and critical reading of the literature, we developed a framework for analyzing TIF that treats property values as extrinsic and determined by the political arrangements and calculative negotiations that create, capture, and destroy them. Interactions between private property markets and governing bodies cause costs to fluctuate, responsibility for different expenditures and claims on new revenues to shift, and the location and magnitude of spillover effects to change over time. The flexibility of property values in Hudson Yards allowed the taxes to be used at cross-purposes, jeopardizing the payback streams and inflating risks shouldered by the public sector.

The creation–capture–destruction heuristic we developed can help planners modify their expectations of the future and spend economic development dollars more effectively in the present.

Access the paper via the Journal of the American Planning Associate (JAPA) here.