May 31, 2021 Op-Ed By: Linda Lee
At a time when our politics have never seemed so divided, most homeowners in New York agree on one thing – our property tax system is unfair and in need of reform.
For this reason, Eastern Queens residents should consider our votes for the mayor not only because of their commitment to affordable housing for renters, but also because of their plans to create home ownership opportunities for low and middle income families without taking them out of their homes.
New Yorkers have grown used to the call for affordable housing that is obvious to anyone who lives here. But all too often, the affordability of home ownership is overlooked as the fact that you own your apartment or house is misunderstood as “made”.
The reality is different – for many Eastern Queens residents, our homes, cooperatives, and condominiums also represent the savings and retirement plans of our lives. Even after you’ve paid off your mortgage, maintenance, utility, and property taxes keep going up, making it difficult to get on.
The injustice of our property tax system exacerbates this problem. Since owners of properties with skyrocketing values have capped their taxes, owners of properties with less value bear the burden of the dike disproportionately. This means that Eastern Queens union members, families and retirees are subsidizing speculative real estate premiums in upscale neighborhoods.
This burden is also borne by the tenants, as the landlords pass on the maintenance costs through higher rental fees. That’s one reason why rents across the city, along with property taxes, have skyrocketed in recent years. And just as small landlords suffer from this unequal tax regime, so do low- and middle-income tenants who rent from them.
With elections approaching and many candidates pledging to allow New Yorkers a middle class rebound, we should carefully consider their property tax pledges.
Because even the most generous rental protection does not protect against economic reality – there has to be something, be it that maintenance is deferred or affordable housing is left instead of mass speculative development.
Solving our property tax crisis requires a partnership between the mayor, the city council and the legislature. Mayor de Blasio recently announced the resumption of his Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform, a commendable, if overdue move.
It will be our next Mayor who will have to liaise with the Commission to ensure that the final report addresses the issue at hand and translates its recommendations from proposals into reality. We need a mayor to help hardworking homeowners stay in their homes and in New York.
The next city council will also play a role as the city council sets the property tax rates as part of the budget process. While Albany lawmakers oversee how taxes are shared between building classes, the council should ensure that property taxes freeze for at least the next year following the pandemic that saw many homeowners and small landlords struggling to make ends meet become.
The federal incentive and economic recovery have already left New York in a stronger financial condition than expected, and so at least some of that money should go towards easing working families.
After all, the mayor, the city council and our state legislative delegation should work together to promote real estate tax reform in Albany. Instead of the current system that allows the tax burden to be shifted from high-quality property speculators to middle-income neighborhoods, taxes should reflect the true sales value of each property.
Right now we’re making it cheaper to hoard properties in hot markets while families in East 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 cooperatives and condominiums for the homes they are, rather than commercial real estate under current law. This change could save families in east Queens thousands of dollars a year and make a real difference for so many.
It should go without saying, but houses are apartments and we should push for home ownership wherever possible in this city. With mayor and city council candidates making pledges to secure affordable housing – much needed after the pandemic and years of skyrocketing prices – they cannot ignore the role affordable home ownership plays in the city-wide formula. When looking at my vote (s) for the mayor, these questions will make my decision difficult. I suggest they do it for you too.
Linda Lee is the CEO and President of the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York. She is running for the city council in District 23