A broad coalition of New York City leaders are calling on the mayor to freeze property taxes.Getty
A broad coalition of city leaders, from business to civic groups, is urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to put a freeze on property tax bills and provide relief for property owners who are struggling with their payments amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
A joint statement was issued today by the Real Estate Board of New York, the city’s real estate trade group, as well as the NAACP NYS Conference, the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, the Hospitality Alliance, the Hotel Association of New York Ctity, the Building Owners and Managers Association and the Brooklyn and Queens chambers of commerce.
The groups are asking the mayor to freeze property tax rates and assessments so that tax bills do not increase, reduce interest penalties from 18% to 3% and allow property owners to pay their taxes on monthly payment plans.
“As commercial and residential rent collections continue to decline, we need responsible policies that support property owners who continue to pay property taxes that support vital government services while grappling with mortgages, maintaining payroll and covering increased building maintenance expenses,” said James Whelan, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, in a statement announcing the push for a tax freeze. “The challenges our City faces due to the Coronavirus are stark but surmountable. We need thoughtful, data-driven policies, not ideological ones, that can lead our city towards a steady recovery.”
New York City property tax rates have increased nearly 50% since de Blasio took office, the group claims.
The call comes months after industry leaders widely panned a mayoral commission’s recommended changes to the residential property tax system. The changes were designed to lessen the tax burden for low- and moderate-income homeowners while shifting it to those in wealthier neighborhoods, but those in the real estate industry said it would lead to homeowners leaving the city.
It also comes after REBNY reported this week that the New York had lost more than $100 million in tax revenue generated by a combination of residential and commercial real estate sales between March and April of this year due to the pandemic.
Members of the diverse group calling on de Blasio for a rent freeze are united in the belief that the property tax system is in need of a change.
“Our current property tax system is inequitable and regressive,” said Hazel Dukes, president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP, in a statement. “Increasing rates at a time like this will further exacerbate problems for homeowners in low income communities of color who already bear a disproportionate share of the burden. This segment of our housing infrastructure has only grown more fragile in this pandemic. Temporary fixes like mortgage deferrals are not enough. Mayor de Blasio has to provide the meaningful lifeline of a property tax freeze to prevent the American dream of homeownership from becoming a nightmare for these families and the families they house.”
Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums said that any increase in taxes during the pandemic could force homeowners, paprticularly seniors, from their homes.
“Freezing the property tax at current levels will provide welcome stability and a predictable revenue stream for the City,” Rothman said. ”Lowering interest on late payments to a reasonable level and implementing people-friendly payment policies are also appropriate responses for the City to adopt at this time of hardship.”
Those in the hospitality and hotel industries say the property tax freeze would also provide much-needed relief to their hard-hit sectors.
“No industry has been hit harder than the tourism sector, and yet hotels across New York City have stepped up to do our part in the fight against COVID-19 by sheltering frontline health care workers, recovering patients and the homeless,” said Vijay Dandapani, president and chief executive officer of the Hotel Association of New York City. “As an indispensable part of the city’s economy and a crucial player in the long economic recovery ahead, it’s essential and only fair that the city does everything it can to keep hotels in business. We need immediate property tax relief and payment flexibility to avoid a wave of bankruptcies that is imminent absent decisive action by our partners in city government.”
With nearly half of shuttered small businesses behind on rent payments — survey data from Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce shows that 45% of small businesses missed all or part of their rent payments the property tax freeze will be crucial for the city to reopen, business leaders said.
“With so many commercial tenants and landlords struggling, and with a significant property tax bill looming, New York City should provide the flexibility and support needed to stabilize costs through a tax rate freeze and a reduction in penalties,” said Randy Peers, president and chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “Ultimately the City should consider property tax abatements that can serve as incentives to reduce rent obligations in this time of distress.”
Property tax rates are set jointly by the mayor and the New York City Council. Laura Feyer, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said that in de Blasio’s six years in office, he has not increased the tax rate.
“Tax rate changes at tax class level are the result of state law mechanics of the City’s property tax system, Feyer said. “Tax rates for specific classes have changed but not dramatically. In fact, class 2 and 4 tax rates are lower in FY20 than they were in FY15, when Mayor de Blasio took office. Additionally, (the Department of Finance) already has a number of monthly payment plans which are readily available for New Yorkers to take advantage of.”
Feyer noted that earlier this month, the de Blasio recommended a reduction in late payment penalties for the 2021 fiscal year and proposed reducing the late-payment penalty to zero for the first quarter for homeowners impacted by COVID-19.
“We are seeing first-hand the economic impact COVID-19 is having in New Yorkers who are struggling to get by,” Feyer said. “At the same time, we must balance the very real needs of the City, which relies on property taxes to fund the essential city services like hospitals and our first responders.”
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