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O Property Tax Reform, Where Art Thou?

New York City

Tax Reform

Well-off neighborhoods like brownstone Brooklyn could see higher property taxes if reform comes.

Aug. 14, 2019

Formed by the mayor and city council in May 2018, a commission was supposed to produce recommendations this past February on ways to reform the city’s lopsided, opaque, and unloved system of levying property taxes. So far, the commission has held public hearings in all five boroughs but has produced no reform proposals. What’s next? More public hearings, Politico reports, with recommendations likely to come by the end of the year.

The public hearings held so far have produced one startling revelation: New Yorkers across the city all agree that they pay too much in property taxes. Meanwhile, as the commission dawdles, a lawsuit filed by a coalition known as Tax Equity Now New York (TENNY) works its way through the courts, with the goal of winning a court-mandated overhaul of the system. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged last year that reform would be a “priority” of his second term, so he set up the commission to finally address disparities, rather than let the lawsuit steer the changes. “I believe, fundamentally, we will end up with a more straightforward, more transparent, more consistent property tax system for homeowners and co-op owners and condo owners,” he said. He placed only one requirement on the commission: that any changes not alter the total revenue property taxes generate for the city, which amounts to $29.6 billion in the current fiscal year. In other words, if reform does come, for every winner there will be an equal loser. 

And the biggest losers could be well-to-do co-ops and condos, which many feel are enjoying artificially low tax bills at the expense of renters and lower- to middle-class apartment owners. 

“The system is aggressively regressive – shifting the tax burdens away from wealthier homeowners and onto the backs of lower-income property owners and tenants,” TENNY argues. “These inequities in the system have continued to widen, penalizing renters, small- and large-business owners, homeowners in slower-appreciating neighborhoods, minorities, and various other New Yorkers.”

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