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Queens Chronicle

Sandy victims vent tax frustrations

Property assessments went up in Howard Beach despite damage

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Posted: Thursday, March 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:56 am, Thu Mar 14, 2013.

After what most homeowners in Howard Beach have been through in the past four months since Hurricane Sandy sent an unexpected surge of water into their neighborhood, the last thing these folks want to hear is that their property taxes are going to go up.

And they have made that pretty clear.

Even though nearly every home in Howard Beach suffered some form of damage from the storm — and a few were basically destroyed — the city has assessed most properties there as increasing in value this year, leading many to receive higher property tax bills.

“But how could that be?” many residents are asking. Hurricane Sandy’s damage must have lowered the value of their homes, and houses in this neighborhood, which will likely soon be identified by the federal government as a flood zone, must be selling for lower prices — if at all.

“I think we all know houses that sold for $600,000 before Sandy are not selling for that amount now,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) at a town hall meeting held on Feb. 27 at St. Helen’s Father Dooley Hall in Howard Beach. Ulrich hosted the meeting with representatives from the city Department of Finance and the Tax Commission, who explained how properties are assessed and why they came up with the numbers they did for Howard Beach.

At times, struggling to keep irate residents in the room calm, Ulrich and Tax Commission President Glenn Newman explained that property values in Howard Beach are assessed in a number of ways, many of which would have been decided before Hurricane Sandy, and those values can and will be reassessed with post-Sandy factors before the city’s fiscal year ends in June.

He assured residents that the commission can and will reassess property values this year as long as appeals are filed. It is common for the Tax Commission to reassess properties for any number of reasons and often residents ask for higher assessments, even though it may mean higher property taxes.

Property assessments are done using a number of factors. One, aerial photographs are taken by the city. While Newman did not specify if the photographs for Howard Beach were taken before or after Sandy, he noted that most of the damage done in the neighborhood was inside homes, not to the exterior, and thus would not have been noticed in the photographs as they might have been in parts of Staten Island and some parts of the Rockaways, such as Breezy Point.

The commission uses comparable sales — the values for which properties of the same type in the same neighborhood are sold. Newman acknowledged that houses have not been selling in the neighborhood since the storm, but that properties were assessed based on pre-Sandy sales, which were high. He added that any sales that take place between now and June would be looked at when reassessments are made.

“If there are comparable sales in Howard Beach between now and June, we will take that into consideration in our reassessments,” Newman said.

Residents were given forms to fill out and return by March 15 to receive a hearing with the commission to reassess their property values. The form is also available online at nyc.gov/finance or can be requested by calling 311. Hearings will then be scheduled in which homeowners can show proof of storm damage and other factors that will lead to a reassessed value. Hearings will be scheduled for late spring and residents may be able to get hearings in Queens, so that they won’t have to head to Lower Manhattan to argue their case.

Ulrich suggested residents keep an updated file of records, including photos, receipts from contractors and anything else they can use as documentation to prove damage to their homes.

A similar meeting was held in the Rockaways on Feb. 26.

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration were also present at the town hall meeting to continue assisting residents who have utilized their services.

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