For the past several decades, everyone has known that the New York City property tax system is unfair and inequitable. As a working-class, middle-class homeowner in Queens, thanks to our failed property tax system, I pay more in taxes compared to the value of my home than people in other neighborhoods where homes sell for much more.
It is simply unfair that people like me who live in the middle class, as well as other Black and Hispanic neighborhoods across the city, pay more in taxes compared to the value of our homes than New Yorkers in wealthier neighborhoods. Yet year after year, the city and state kick reform and do nothing to address the underlying problems.
The city blew a recent opportunity to make the property tax system fairer. In January, the Finance Department released the assessment list that will be used to set taxes for the fiscal year that begins this July.
We should all agree: Two houses in the same city worth the same amount of money should be assessed and taxed the same, regardless of the neighborhood’s racial makeup. I shouldn’t be assessed and pay double property taxes compared to someone who owns a house worth more than mine. But the list of assessments continues to perpetuate existing and known inequities in the property tax system. The City has the responsibility and the tools to make sure all properties are properly and fairly assessed, but it chooses not to.
All the more reason why we need the state supreme court to rule on New York City’s property taxes and order a solution with due deliberate speed. That’s why I’m proud to take a stand as part of a broad coalition of New Yorkers against this injustice and for tax equity for fellow New Yorkers like me who are being unfairly taxed.
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Rather than welcome court intervention, city attorneys keep asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed. The reasoning is dubious. While the lawyers admit that the tax system is “imperfect and needs reform,” they also say that the proper route is not through the courts.
The problem is that no City Hall or Albany administration has done absolutely nothing to address the stark inequities in the current system that prevent us from trying to build generational wealth for our loved ones. In fact, it’s the reason we went to court, because the city didn’t take any action. And in this case, whether they want to admit it or not, the administrations have been aiding, abetting, defending and continuing an unfair tax system to stay as it is, one that is directly detrimental to Black and Latino residents throughout the city. .
The current system is meaningless and impossible for the average person to understand. For example, right now, my property is appraised at more than 5% of my value. Over the past five years, my taxes have consistently increased by almost 27%. Meanwhile, former Mayor de Blasio, whose Park Slope property in Brooklyn is worth more than mine, is assessed at about 1% of value. All we are asking for is fair and equal treatment: In a fair system, I would pay taxes based on 1% of my value as 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 the poorest neighborhoods higher than the wealthier areas. It is an injustice that we can no longer afford, especially in light of the last three years of economic stagnation as a result of the pandemic.
To defend homeowners like me, the city should not reject the legal challenge of the property tax system by asking the courts to dismiss our case. In our lawsuit, we hope to obtain declaratory relief for all homeowners like me who have been unfairly penalized by a flawed tax system.
We cannot pretend that this problem does not exist and wait for the Legislature or the executive branch to solve it. When the courts and history finally rule in our favor, only then can we design a new and fairer system for landlords and tenants.
Russell is a homeowner in Laurelton and a member of Tax Equity Now New York (TENNY), the plaintiff in a lawsuit before the New York Court of Appeals.