The Real Deal New York

Religious groups’ tax-exempt NY properties skyrocket in value to $26B: report

RE assets worth nearly double in 2015 what they were in 1999

October 27, 2016 07:30AM

Photo of 25-30 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights (credit: Jehovah's Witnesses)

Photo of 25-30 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights (credit: Jehovah’s Witnesses)

The value of religious groups’ real estate holdings across New York state has exploded over the past two decades — to a total of $26 billion.

The state’s most notable expansion of tax-free land is in Ramapo, where there is a fast-growing Orthodox Jewish population, according to analysis from the USA Today Network. The number of religious tax-exempt properties in the town more than tripled between 1999 and 2015. The value of the properties rose by 165 percent in the same period.

Michael West, an attorney at the New York Council of Nonprofits, told the news network the expansion has been so vast it is possible there are no longer any properties left on the tax rolls. “If you do the math and extrapolate it out, there’s only so much land,” he said.

New York City has the highest number of religious groups’ tax-exempt properties, with a total value of $12 billion. The town of Buffalo came in second, with a total of 842 tax-exempt properties worth $172 million. Rochester ranked third, with 568 properties valued at $141 million combined.

State Sen. John Bonacic said New York state residents pay some of the highest property taxes in the country. “When a property comes off the tax rolls, it simply shifts a higher tax burden onto the shoulders of the remaining taxpayers,” he said.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses — who have invested extensively in Brooklyn — saved at least $368 million in taxes over the past 12 years. The group is in the process of moving to Warwick after making more than $1 billion from the sale of over 20 buildings. [Journal News] — Miriam Hall

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