Property Tax Reform Panel Hears from Homeowners

No one is happy with their property taxes, it would seem.

The New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform came to Brooklyn on Oct. 15 to hold a public hearing and hear first-hand from homeowners about unfairly high tax rates, inequities in the ways property values are assessed and the negative effects the system has on the quality of life in middle class neighborhoods.

Several elected officials were among those who testified at the hearing or submitted written testimony, according to residents who attended the session, which took place at Borough Hall.

Chief among the complaints was that the city’s property tax structure is set up in such a way that homeowners in more desirable neighborhoods, like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, wind up paying less than their fellow property owners in other parts of Brooklyn, like Bay Ridge and Flatbush.

Homeowners in places like Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Canarsie and Brownsville pay a rate of 0.73 percent, while Park Slope property owners are paying 0.32 percent, according to Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, a Republican who represents portions of Bay Ridge and Staten Island, and who has been outspoken in her opposition to the system.

At the hearing, there was a strong call for a more equitable system, according to several people in attendance.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who submitted testimony, called the system “an unnecessary labyrinth of confusion.”

And it’s not just property owners who are impacted, according to Adams, who said tenants also suffer due to rising rents brought on by higher costs for building owners.

“Homeowners have been suffering under this unfair assessment system for too long, one that places different property tax burdens on similarly valued properties across the five boroughs, and renters often bear the burden of this unequal system as the cost is passed on through increasing rents across the city,” Adams stated.

The commission, which was formed in May by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, has been mandated to research property taxes and recommend changes to simplify the system.

Property taxes are the largest source of revenue for New York City, generating billions of dollars each year, according to the Citizens Budget Commission.

The property-tax rate has grown at triple the rate of working class New Yorkers’ incomes over the past 10 years, according to Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, a Democrat who represents Sunset Park. The costs have risen so much that parents who are retiring and who wish to pass their homes on to their children are now doubtful the children will be able to afford to stay in New York, he stated.

Ortiz suggested that the property tax system be changed to place more of the financial burden on those who can afford it. “We cannot tax our residents to the point where they cannot support their families or be able to stay in the city as they are the backbone of our communities and our economy,” Ortiz wrote in testimony he submitted.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who represents Flatbush, East Flatbush and Midwood, and who testified in person, charged that communities of color are hit with a disproportionate share of the burden.

“Draining money from the residents while providing breaks for the wealthiest blocks across boroughs is holding back entire communities from financial advancement. People of more color are paying more into a system that supports them less,” he testified.

The property tax system came under increased scrutiny after the advocacy group Tax Equity filed a lawsuit against the city, according to Williams. He referred to the lawsuit during his testimony.

Williams, a member of the City Council’s Committee on Housing, also urged the seven-member commission “not just to hear but to listen” to the public.

Malliotakis, who submitted testimony to the commission at its Staten Island hearing on Sept. 27, said she is proposing a series of changes that would include assessing all Class 1 at full market value, placing a property tax cap for senior citizens, and subjecting New York City to a two percent cap on its property tax levy.

“Currently, New York City is one of the few municipalities in the state of New York that does not have a cap on the property tax levy. As a result, we have seen the mayor and City Council increase the property tax levy by a whopping 44 percent to over $27 billion since 2013, placing an incredible burden on its citizens,” Malliotakis stated.

Photo courtesy of City Councilmember Jumaane Williams

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