Houston, U.S.A. — The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launched an online ad campaign in Houston drawing attention to office building owners’ routine practice of protesting property tax appraisals, costing  local governments and school systems millions in lost revenue each year.

The ads, running in more than 1,000 outlets, allow viewers to send emails to top Houston building owners JPMorgan Chase and Brookfield Properties and the Houston Building Office and Managers Association (BOMA) calling on big real estate to pay its fair share.

The campaign comes amid increased scrutiny of commercial real estate owners’ use of Houston’s tax protest process. According to new research, owners of the biggest, most valuable office buildings in Houston €“ many of them rich, out-of-state corporations €“ routinely protest all or nearly all of their property tax bills, lowering their property appraisals to well below market value.

These tax protests cost local government and local schools more than $65 million in 2011, at a time when decreases in tax revenues have forced massive budget cuts, including the layoff of more than 3,000 teachers.

The campaign also highlights the impact of commercial property tax protests on homeowners, whose tax bills may be higher to compensate for lost revenue. In 2011, commercial property owners were nearly twice as successful at getting their buildings’ appraised value reduced as single family homeowners, according to the campaign.

Janitors who clean Houston’s big office towers are in the midst of the fourth week of an unfair labor practice strike after cleaning companies contracted by JPMorgan Chase, Brookfield, and other building owners fired, threatened and intimidated workers speaking up for fair wages and better conditions.

Despite high demand in Houston’s healthy commercial real estate industry, Houston’s office cleaners are some of the lowest paid in the nation€”most are paid less than $9,000 a year.  Cleaning contractors pay janitors working in cities with weaker markets and lower rental rates, such as Chicago, Cincinnati, Orange County, and Cleveland significantly higher wages. For example, in Detroit where vacancy rates are 6.3 percent higher, and rental rates are more than five dollars lower, janitors make over $11.17 an hour.


Image Courtesy of  Houston Janitors