Testimony before Property Tax Reform Commission

Good evening, and thank you for being here this evening to hear from my constituents and me. I also want to thank Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Corey Johnson for empaneling this commission. Many of us fought during budget negotiations this spring for a property tax rebate. Though we were not successful, my hope is that this commission will do something even more meaningful for homeowners, and this is to propose a permanent fix to our current opaque, regressive system that penalizes Staten Island homeowners while rewarding speculative buyers who flip properties in wealthy areas of this city.

My North Shore City Council district ranks 6th out of the city’s 51 districts in terms of effective property tax rates, with homeowners here paying an average of 1.1 percent of their home’s value, significantly higher than the city median. In the western portion of the district, the inequality is even more extreme, with homeowners paying as much as 1.2 percent of their home’s value. Compare that to effective tax rates of 0.2 percent in areas such as Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn, and it is clear to all that our system burdens property owners in neighborhoods that appreciate at a slow pace, while rewarding those in the most affluent neighborhoods.

One of the reasons I pursued public office was to make our city more fair for all New Yorkers. When it comes to property taxes, we have a system that is anything but fair. Hard-working homeowners with longstanding roots in their communities should not be paying a greater share of their property’s value – or a larger dollar amount – than a real estate company flipping multimillion-dollar units in Brooklyn and Manhattan. This system has been documented to be regressive, with low- and middle-income property owners with modest homes here on Staten Island paying several times what a wealthy homeowner pays.

We must also bear in mind that homeowners are encouraged to appeal assessment decisions through the Tax Commission. However, few of them understand the original basis for a property assessment increase. Thus, property owners have difficulty presenting a reasonable argument for a reduction in assessment. Even when they do understand, they do not have the information on comparable properties in their neighborhood much less throughout the city that could give weight to a request to reduce the property assessment. The assessment leads to the tax demanded, and the working families in my district have nothing in their toolbox to fight City Hall. We must look at our appeal processes and as well as our beginning assessment methods to develop a clear and balanced means of property tax valuation.

I know that myriad solutions to this system have been proposed: issuing rebates, lifting assessment caps, instituting a “flip tax.” All are worthy considerations that will help to fix a convoluted system that few people in this city understand. I hope that you will look at each and every one and bring to us real reforms that create a fair system, and end discrimination against Staten Islanders and against lower- and middle-class property owners.


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