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Queens Co-op Protests Crippling Tax Bill

Long Island City, Queens

Citylights Protest

Citylights shareholders rallied Tuesday to protest a crippling tax bill (image courtesy Pythia Public Affairs).

June 20, 2018

Dozens of shareholders at Citylights – the largest affordable co-op in Queens – rallied in Long Island City on Tuesday, demanding that city and state officials take steps to save the 522-unit co-op, which is facing a crippling $5.8 million property tax bill that comes due July 1. Unless relief arrives, shareholders will see a 60 percent increase in their property taxes and monthly maintenance over the next five years. 

“If the city and state don’t do anything, people are going to be forced out of their homes,” the co-op’s treasurer, Shelley Cohen, tells Politico. “And it’s having a negative impact on property values.” 

Citylights was built by the New York State Development Authority in 1996, and a 20-year tax abatement expired in 2016. (Under a land-lease arrangement, the state owns the land the building sits on.) In 2016, the city’s Department of Finance assessed the high-rise building at $51.7 million. Last year the assessment jumped to $96.9 million, then this year to $101.6 million – an increase of nearly 100 percent in three years. 

The culprit, according to Cohen, is that, when assessing real estate values, the city compares co-ops and condos to rental buildings. When Citylights was built in 1996, Long Island City was a gritty industrial zone. Today it is home to dozens of new luxury rental buildings – which squeezes an affordable co-op that suddenly faces a staggering tax bill. The Citylights co-op, which is managed by Akam Associates, is in the process of appealing its assessment. 

Last month, in response to decades of calls for reform, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the formation of a seven-member commission to review the city’s property tax system and propose ways to make it simpler and fairer. Meanwhile, a group called Tax Equity Now New York has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the current property tax system on the grounds that it both unfair and racially discriminatory. The city argued last week that the suit should be dismissed – and that a political solution is preferable to a court-mandated solution to the city’s property tax snafu. 

Tell that to the shareholders at Citylights – and every other New Yorker who has been waiting decades for a political solution.

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