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Comprehensive Property Tax Reform Effort Underway

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New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is vowing to issue substantial reform to property taxes in New York City after facing long standing complaints of “an out-of-date and unequal property tax system.” [1] After explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic had halted last year’s efforts in this regard, De Blasio vowed to ensure that reform will pass before he leaves office next year. He has tasked the city’s Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform with holding public hearings, researching and producing a final report which will guide De Blasio’s promised reform. [2]

This latest effort is perhaps the most substantial progress De Blasio has made on his 2014 “promise to overhaul property taxes to make them more rational, equitable, and transparent.” [3] To this effect, De Blasio and his Advisory Commission will be scrutinizing the discrepancies in tax rates which purportedly result in increased burdens upon black, latino, immigrant and low-income homeowners within the city. Specifically, the concern lies in the fact that low-income homeowners (of which the majority are individuals of color) “pay a much higher percentage of their properties’ sales value in taxes than co-ops and condos, and even similarly valued properties in other parts of the city.” [4] This insight and the redistributive goal which has followed it are reflected in the Commission’s preliminary report, released just a month before the onset of the pandemic. [5]

Involved in the restarted effort are a mixed bag of state senators, city councilmembers and, of course, the mayoral staff. Public hearings will likely be underway this summer. We can expect that they will cover the frustrations which have brought the group together. City Council Member Justin Brannan, part of the group and a Brooklyn Democrat, summarized them as such: “… our property-tax system — which was last updated in 1981 when New York City was a very different place — is badly broken and unfair because it benefits the wealthiest 1% and crushes everyone else.” [6] Brannan further explained that he is especially committed to combating the pernicious effects of the outdated property tax system on single-family homeowners in neighborhoods which have not seen much market growth. For them, Brannan argues, reform is long overdue.

Harms aside, there is still a vested public interest in passing reform, as property taxes reportedly account for a third of all city revenue. Amendments which increase revenue while decreasing the gap in taxation are bound to improve the city’s budget crisis. De Blasio, in his executive order, made room for just as much, requiring that the Advisory Commission’s recommendations “be revenue neutral, meaning they should do nothing to reduce the city’s bottom line.” [7] Having positioned this effort as one of the many keys to recovery in the city, De Blasio and his Commission will likely face public and political scrutiny as their efforts unfold. Furthermore, the influence the Commission’s report will have on the next mayoral administration may possibly result in increased comprehensive property tax reform, the likes of which has not been seen for nearly half a century. 

Sources:

[1] – Geringer-Sameth, Ethan, “De Blasio Pledges Last Gasp Property Tax Reform Effort,” The Gotham Gazette, 12 Feb. 2021, https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/10162-de-blasio-pledges-restart-property-tax-reform, acc 22 Feb. 2021.

[2] – Ibid.

[3] – Ibid.

[4] – Ibid.

[5] – Ibid.

[6] – Ibid.

[7] – Ibid.

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