New York City’s unfair tax system: Property assessment rolls have no rhyme or reason and must be changed

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For the last several decades, everyone has known that New York City’s property tax system is unfair and inequitable. As a hard-working, middle-class homeowner in Queens, thanks to our broken property tax system, I pay more taxes compared to the value of my home than folks in other neighborhoods where homes sell for much more.

It’s simply unfair that people like me who live in middle-class as well as other Black and Hispanic neighborhoods across the city, are paying more taxes compared to the value of our homes than New Yorkers in wealthier neighborhoods. Yet, year after year, the city and state kick the reform can down the road and do nothing to address the underlying problems.

The city squandered a recent opportunity to make the property tax system fairer. In January, the Department of Finance released the assessment roll that will be used to set taxes for the fiscal year that starts this July.

Unequal and unjust.

We should all agree: two homes in the same city worth the same amount of money should be assessed and taxed the same, no matter the racial makeup of the neighborhood. I shouldn’t be assessed and pay double the property taxes compared to what someone who owns a home worth more than mine pays. But the assessment roll continues to perpetuate the existing and known inequities in the property tax system. The city has the responsibility and the tools to make sure all properties are assessed correctly and fairly, yet it chooses not to.

All the more reason why we need the state’s highest court to issue a ruling about New York City’s property taxes and order a fix with all due deliberate speed. That’s why I have been proud to take a stand as part of a broad coalition of New Yorkers against this injustice, and in favor of tax equity for fellow New Yorkers like me who are being taxed unfairly.

Rather than welcome the court’s intervention, the city’s lawyers continue to ask that the lawsuit be dismissed. The reasoning is dubious. While the lawyers admit the tax system is “imperfect and in need of reform,” they also claim the appropriate avenue is not through the courts.

The problem is, absolutely nothing has been done by any administration in City Hall or Albany to address the stark inequities in the current system, blocking us from attempting to build any generational wealth for our loved ones. In fact, it’s the reason we have turned to the courts — because of an absolute failure by the city to take any action. And in this case, whether they want to admit it or not, administrations have been aiding, abetting, defending, and continuing an unjust system of taxation to stand as is — one that is directly to the detriment of Black and Brown residents across the city.

The current system makes no sense and is impossible for the average person to understand. For instance, right now, my property is assessed at more than 5% of my value. In the past five years, my taxes have steadily increased by almost 27%. Meanwhile, former Mayor de Blasio, whose Park Slope property in Brooklyn is worth more than mine, is assessed at around 1% of value. All we are asking for is equal and equitable treatment: in a just system, I would pay taxes based on 1% of my value like the former mayor.

If New York City is supposed to be one of the most progressive cities in the nation, we cannot justify taxing the middle-class and even poorer neighborhoods higher than richer areas. It is an injustice we can no longer afford, especially in light of the past three years of economic stagnation as a result of the pandemic.

To champion homeowners like me, the city should not reject the lawful challenge to the property tax system by asking the courts to dismiss our case. In our lawsuit, we hope to win declaratory relief for all homeowners like me who have been unfairly penalized by a broken tax system.

We cannot pretend this issue doesn’t exist and wait for the Legislature or executive branch to fix it. When the courts and history ultimately rule in our favor, only then can we craft a new, fairer system for property owners and tenants.

Source: New York Daily News

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