After months of investigating tax loopholes that benefit businesses at the expense of taxpayers for its Unfair Burden article series, the Houston Chronicle turned its attention to church parsonages, which are mostly tax-exempt in Texas.
- “The state’s most populous counties identified 2,683 parsonages worth about $1 billion, costing other residents who must fund school districts and local governments $16 million every year.”
- “There is no dollar limit to a parsonage’s tax exemption. At least 28 of the clergy residences were worth more than $1 million.”
- “Across Texas’ largest counties, the Chronicle identified more than 30 parsonages for which appraisers had granted the 100 percent tax break even though they exceed the law’s 1-acre limit.”
In May, Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Jay Root contacted Trinity Foundation for assistance on the article series. It was a learning experience for all involved. The main one Trinity Foundation helped with was the fourth in their series, focusing in on Kenneth Copeland’s parsonage and organization.
The Houston Chronicle submitted Open Records requests to Texas county appraisal districts, examined state tax code requirements to be recognized as a parsonage, and interviewed county appraisers after identifying parsonages that violated state law by covering more than one acre of land.
Staff photographers drove across the state taking pictures of parsonages. As a result, the Houston Chronicle has produced some of the best religion news coverage of 2021.