Op-Ed | New York City needs a fair and simple property tax system

Historic buildings on Greene Street in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City
Photo via Getty Images

We all saw the SNL skit poking fun at Zillow, suggesting that 30-somethings in high priced cities treat it the same way others treat porn websites. And who hasn’t felt the urge to throw something at their television while watching a couple go house hunting in another state? Whether through census data, moving company reports, and now even sketch comedy, one thing is clear: more and more New Yorkers are seeing the absurdity of New York City’s housing market.

Since the beginning of the pandemic our neighboring states of New Jersey and Connecticut have reaped a tax windfall as young families fled New York. This is not only due to the pandemic, but because of the soaring costs to live, work, and raise a family in New York City. Real estate prices have skyrocketed in these adjacent states and their tax rolls have increased as New Yorkers found greener and cheaper pastures in the suburbs.

Not all taxes are equal, nor are all city homeowners taxed in an equitable manner throughout the five boroughs. Our arcane tax structure benefits neighborhoods like the Upper East Side and Park Slope to the detriment of “outer borough” neighborhoods like Bay Ridge and Tottenville. Our constituents are willing to pay their fair share to protect our streets, educate our children and keep our parks clean. But they are not willing to be unfairly taxed. This is why we demanded that Mayor de Blasio create a commission to study the inequities in the city’s property tax system, which could issue recommendations to address this issue. That commission told us what we already knew—New Yorkers deserve a fair and simple property tax system.

But as tax revenues from tourism and other commerce dropped due to the pandemic, the city unfairly moved the tax burden to working class families across the city by adding interest to overdue tax bills. Instead of a hand up, the city gave residents struggling to get through the pandemic the middle finger.

Opponents to property tax reform have also used the pandemic as an excuse to freeze the recommendations from the commission and prevent hearing feedback from our residents. With mass vaccinations taking place and the movement back to normal progressing, it is incumbent on the city to immediately resume efforts to fix our broken property tax system.

What some seem to forget is that the city is not just Manhattan. The “outer boroughs” are full of essential workers who have borne the brunt of this pandemic through their service as nurses, transit workers, cops, firefighters, and EMTs. We owe it to them to ensure they are treated fairly when it comes to property taxes.

New Yorkers do not need another commission. New Yorkers do not need another report. New Yorkers do not need another analysis. New Yorkers need action—now.