They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. We waited nearly two years for the New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform to release a report that told us what we already knew: Our property-tax system is broken and unfair because it benefits the wealthiest 1 percent and crushes the rest of us. Now it’s time for an immediate freeze on property taxes.
The long-awaited report included 10 no-brainer recommendations to address the savage inequities in the system with the goal of creating simpler, clearer and fairer property taxes. Fine. And now the mayor has announced hearings on the report.
But it’s not enough to simply aim for a clearer and fairer system; we must also offer relief to those who have been unfairly paying too much for too long.
During Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent State of the City address, he vowed to “save our city” and unveiled his team’s vision to ensure New Yorkers can continue to call the city they love home. But he conveniently failed to address the tale of two cities hidden in plain sight: our broken property-tax system and the rapidly evaporating path to homeownership for most New Yorkers.
Facts are facts: Single-family homeowners in working-class neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, Ozone Park and Great Kills are paying way more in property taxes than luxury co-op and condo owners in Manhattan and landlords of million-dollar brownstones in Park Slope (like the mayor).
Middle-class homeowners, already treading water as the costs just to maintain what they have continue to rise every year, are footing the tax bill for billionaire Michael Dell’s $100 million penthouse, while hardworking families in Canarsie and Throggs Neck watch their path to homeownership all but disappear.
Given that we know the incredible damage being done by the current system, how can we justify another round of raised taxes on hardworking New Yorkers? How would you explain to someone who has spent years saving for a down payment and watched her neighborhood’s property values skyrocket out of reach that you’re moving the goal posts yet again and raising her taxes?
How can our city release a report that was a scathing indictment of an unfair, regressive and inequitable system allow the injustices to continue? Every moment the system remains in place sends a clear message that de Blasio is OK with middle-class homeowners in the outer boroughs suffering while they foot the bill for the rich and famous in Manhattan.
Make no mistake, the current system — absurd and enigmatic — doesn’t only affect homeowners; it affects renters, too, because landlords pass along their taxes to tenants. Meanwhile, no neighborhood in New York is immune to skyrocketing rents, and so it’s absolutely indefensible for renters to carry effective tax rates that are about five times those for condos and one- to three-family homes.
Now that we’ve got the blueprint for how to fix this system, the question is: When will we get serious about fixing it? We are worried most of our colleagues don’t share our sense of urgency. So it’s time to call their bluff.
We need an immediate freeze on property-tax bills until everyone is ready to roll up their sleeves and fix the system. Nobody should see their taxes go up again now that a roadmap to an equitable fix is available.
The panel’s report that the system needs repair was like a study that finds water is wet. Delaying further is not just lazy — it’s a dereliction of duty.
No, reforming this broken, unfair system isn’t going to be easy. But the human cost of the alternative is too high not to try.
Enough is enough. Middle-class homeowners are being squeezed to death while everyone else is looking the other way. We must freeze all property taxes until the fix is ready.
Justin Brannan represents Southern Brooklyn in the City Council. Joe Borelli represents Staten Island’s South Shore.
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