The Real Deal New York

City announces new commission to reform property taxes

The task force announced four years ago failed
By Kathryn Brenzel | May 31, 2018 06:16PM

From left: Corey Johnson and Bill de Blasio (credit: Getty)

Back in January 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly said he would “form a task force or whatever” to address property tax reform in the city. On Thursday, he and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced a slightly more concrete plan: the formation of a commission to review the system.

The advisory commission will develop recommendations to make property taxes “simpler, clearer and fairer” in the city, according to Thursday’s announcement. Vicki Been, former commissioner of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and current professor at New York University, will co-chair the group with Marc Shaw, City University of New York’s interim chief operating officer and former executive vice president of strategic planning at Extell Development. The group will hold at least 10 public meetings, seeking input on issues including the methods used to calculate tax rates and those used for determining property values.

“This is an important first step towards addressing inequities in this city’s broken property tax system,” Johnson said in a statement. “It is crucial that we work to bring clarity and fairness to this process, which has long perplexed the public and left many feeling hoodwinked by the city government tasked with representing them.”

The announcement comes more than four years after then-City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito unveiled a similar commission to study the issue. That group, however, failed to gain traction, as Politico reported eight months after the speaker announced the initiative. Officials said on Thursday that the last time a government-appointed commission conducted an “in-depth review” of property taxes was in 1993. Shaw, who was finance director for the City Council at the time, served on that commission as well.

Still, others have waged battles against what they see as an unfair tax classification system. Back in February, five City Council members were barred from joining a lawsuit against the city and state seeking to overhaul the city’s property tax system. The lawsuit, filed by Tax Equity Now New York last year, alleged that property taxes in the city discriminated against low-income homeowners and landlords. In April, Johnson proposed forming a new commission to lower property tax burdens without cutting too deeply into the city’s revenue streams.

Martha Stark, director of policy at Tax Equity Now, said the latest iteration of the commission “would have never happened” without the group.

“The difference this time is that our litigation isn’t just about unfairness, it’s that the property tax is illegal and unconstitutional,” Stark said in a statement. “While we hope this commission will promptly address these issues, history has made us skeptical that anything will change.”

Even with a commission packed with experts, changing how homeowners are taxed will be an uphill battle. De Blasio indicated earlier this year that reform would likely take a few years and legislation on both the state and city level. State law requires that the city base property assessments on sales of comparable properties and caps increases on assessments at 6 percent.

Other members of the advisory commission include various city officials, economists and professors, as well as real estate professionals such as Gary Rodney, chairman of City Real Estate Advisors, a low-income tax credit syndicator; Felice Michetti, CEO of Grenadier Realty, an affordable housing developer; and Elizabeth Velez, president of the Velez Organization, a construction management company.