Investigation: Texas religious leaders live property tax free — in mansions

Houston Chronicle report says "parsonages" skirting tax laws


There taking the taxes out of Texas.

A Houston Chronicle investigation revealed some religious leaders in the Lone Star State are living lavish lifestyles in mansions doubling as parsonage houses — homes for the clergy — that, like the church buildings themselves, are exempt from being billed for property taxes.

Reporters at the publication delved deep into public documents to find that 30 residences owned by churches across the state were allowed to skip paying taxes despite the fact they were either on too large a piece of property to qualify for the full exemption or were being used for purposes that disqualified them from receiving the tax break.

In one case, the Bonds Ranch Homeowners Association in Fort Worth, Texas revealed to tax appraisers that a 2,300 square-foot parsonage owned by the Dido United Methodist Church was being used as a money-making rental for the past five years — a clear violation of the tax laws. A subsequent investigation by appraisers resulted in the home being put back on the property tax rolls dating to 2018.

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In another, the paper reported appraisers in Denton County gave a 100-percent tax break on the Denton Baptist Temple’s 2.5-acre parsonage since at least 1992. An application for the waiver reveals the church noted the property size was over the allowable limit, but it was approved anyway. The area’s chief appraiser has since notified the church that it will receive a tax bill for the portion of the property that is not exempt.

To top it all off, the paper noted million-dollar homes including a 10-bedroom, 10-and-a-half-bath Houston-area mansion, an 8,000-square-foot residence in a historic San Antonio area, and a Highland Park estate in Dallas paid zero in property taxes because they were being used to house the clergy.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

The paper also reported that there were more than 2,500 parsonages worth about $1 billion in the state’s most populous counties — costing local governments at least $16 million a year in property tax revenue.

[Houston Chronicle] — Vince DiMiceli