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Op-Ed: How the Next Mayor and Council Can Fix Our Property Tax Crisis

City Council Candidate for District 23 Linda Lee Speaking to voters in Eastern Queens (Photo Courtesy of Linda Lee for NYC)

May 31, 2021 Op-Ed By: Linda Lee

At a time when our politics have never seemed more divided, there’s one thing most New York homeowners can agree on– our property tax system is unfair and in need of reform.

That’s why Eastern Queens residents should consider our votes for Mayor based not only on their commitment to affordable housing for renters but also on their plans to create homeownership opportunities for low- and middle-income families without pricing them out of their homes.

New Yorkers have grown accustomed to calls for affordable housing, the need for which is evident to anyone who lives here. But all too often, the affordability of homeownership is overlooked since the fact that you own your apartment or home is misconstrued as having “made it”.

Reality is different– for many Eastern Queens residents, our homes, co-ops, and condos also represent our life’s savings and retirement plans. Even after you pay off your mortgage, maintenance, utilities, and property taxes continue to rise, making it a struggle to get ahead.

The unfair nature of our property tax system exacerbates this problem. since owners of properties with skyrocketing values have their taxes capped, owners of lower-value properties disproportionately bear the burden of the levee. This means that Eastern Queens union members, families, and retirees subsidize speculative real estate bonanzas in upscale neighborhoods across the City.

This burden is borne by renters too since landlords pass along maintenance costs through higher rental fees. That’s one reason why rents across the City have skyrocketed along with property taxes in recent years. And as small-scale landlords suffer under this uneven tax system, so too will low- and middle-income tenants who rent from them.

Distict 23 Council Candidate Linda Lee (Photo: Linda Lee for NYC)

So as the election approaches and many candidates promise to create a middle-class recovery for New Yorkers, we should look carefully at their promises regarding property taxes.

Because even the most generous rent protections won’t protect against economic reality– something has to give, whether that’s maintenance being deferred or affordable housing given over wholesale to speculative development.

Solving our property tax crisis requires a partnership between the Mayor, City Council, and State Legislature. Mayor de Blasio recently announced the resumption of his Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform, a laudable, if overdue step.

It will be our next Mayor who will have to engage with the Commission to ensure the final report addresses the problem at hand and turns its recommendations from proposals into reality. We need a Mayor who’s committed to helping hard-working homeowners stay in their homes and in New York.

The next City Council will also have a role to play since it’s the Council that sets real property tax rates through the budgetary process. While the Legislature in Albany controls how taxes are allocated between building classes, the Council should ensure that, after the pandemic during which many homeowners and small-scale landlords struggled to make ends meet, property taxes are frozen for at least the next year.

The federal stimulus and economic recovery have already left New York in a stronger financial position than expected, and so at least some of that money should be directed towards relief for working families.

Finally, the Mayor, the City Council, and our State Legislative delegation should together push for real property tax reforms in Albany. Rather than the current system that allows caps to shift the tax burden from high-value real estate speculators to middle-income neighborhoods, taxes should reflect the true sales value of each property.

Right now we are making it cheaper to hoard real estate in hot markets while families in Eastern Queens face the prospect of being priced out of their homes. For a so-called progressive city, this system is terribly regressive.

We should also push for reforms that recognize co-ops and condos as the residential dwellings that they are, rather than at a higher rate as commercial properties under current law. This change could save Eastern Queens families thousands of dollars per year, making a real difference for so many.

It should go without saying, but homes are housing, and we should push for homeownership wherever possible in this City. As mayoral and city council candidates line up with promises to secure affordable housing– desperately necessary after the pandemic and years of skyrocketing prices– they cannot ignore the role that affordable homeownership plays in the formula citywide. As I consider my vote(s) for Mayor, these questions will weigh heavily in my decision. I suggest they do for you too.

Linda Lee is the CEO and President of Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York. She is running for City Council in District 23

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