Property tax system needs changes, officials say

Councilman Donovan Richards has backed a lawsuit that may reform the city’s property tax system. He says his constituents in Southeast Queens are paying much more each year than homeowners in wealthier neighborhoods. 

Five City Council members, including two from Queens, late last month filed papers backing a lawsuit that alleges the city’s property tax system is not only broken, but unconstitutional.

“With everything going up ... we should be doing everything in our power to safeguard the middle class,” said Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), one of the politicians who joined the Sept. 29 amicus curiae brief. “We want to level the playing field and have property tax equity across the board. We should not be shouldering the burden for the people who have the means to pay more in property taxes.”

The brief — which was also signed by Councilmembers Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx), Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) — claims the city’s property tax system is “inequitable, unfair and discriminatory.”

The papers are in support of an April lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court by Tax Equity Now NY, a group headed by former state Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Bloomberg administration Finance Commissioner Martha Stark, alleging the system for taxing properties varies by neighborhoods and has a racial bias that violates the Fair Housing Act.

The coalition — which includes mega-developers The Related Companies and The Durst Organization — claims homeowners in pre-dominantly white neighborhoods pay less than those in minority areas, like Southeast Queens — which encompasses most of Richards’ district. For example, Mayor de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, in 2016 paid a little more than $7,000 on two Park Slope properties, according to a copy of their joint filings, whereas some Queens homeowners pay much more than that on homes valued at much less than hizzoner’s.

The Council members backing the suit argue it “undeniably involves questions of important public interest.

“The questions of New York and federal constitutional law that the Court must address are of the utmost importance to [the Council members’] constituents and to all residents of New York City,” the brief states.

Richards said he hears near-constant complaints of rising property taxes, and that his constituents’ dollars are not being invested back into their communities.

“The services are not as great as we want them to be,” he said. “We’re not seeing a total return on what our property taxes are supposed to be going towards.”

Ulrich announced his support for the lawsuit last month.

“We have to come up with a tax system that’s fair, that’s easy to understand and that doesn’t reward the rich and hurt the middle class,” he said at a meeting of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.

The plaintiffs aren’t seeking any direct monetary relief for homeowners, but rather are asking the court to change the way properties are assessed and taxed. De Blasio admits the system needs reforms, but does not believe the lawsuit is the way to achieve the desired result.

“Putting it into the court system, that’s not the way to make decisions,” he said at an unrelated press conference in April. “And also I guarantee you that will be years and years of litigation that won’t result in anything anytime soon.”

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