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1. Endorse the Housing Not Warehousing Act

Empty apartments above shuttered businesses

357 Beach 70th Street, Rockaway, which has been vacant for years. Unpaid property taxes were sold in the 2015 and 2016 tax lien sales. By selling the debt, the City gives up all leverage over the property.

596 Acres would like you and your garden group, block association, business, club or organization to join us in endorsing the Housing Not Warehousing Act. This is a set of bills that will add transparency and accountability to vacant public and private property in our neighborhoods. The bills in the act do three key things:

  • create a registry that all individuals and corporations holding their property vacant have to enter or pay penalties for failure to register,
  • mandate the City perform an annual count of all vacant property in New York City, and
  • require the City to compile a list of all city, state, federally, and authority-owned vacant property suitable for the development of affordable* housing.

Read more about the Act and why it is crucial now in the testimony 596 Acres made before the New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings in September 2016. Let your City Council Member know you would like them to sponsor and vote in support of the Act.

*We will still need to work together to make sure this means affordable to the right people, the ones in the neighborhood now.

2. Protect Community Property from the Threat of the Tax Lien Sale

People walk in grass outside garden rows

1100 Bergen Community garden, owned by its block association for decades, was at risk of having tax debt sold to an investor-backed trust when an administrator failed to file the annual property tax exemption renewal. We worked with gardeners and Mohen & Segal LLP to transfer the land to the Brooklyn Queens Land Trust to protect it from foreclosure and auction to the highest bidder.

Not-for-profit corporations hold property in service of their missions, whether the provision of community services, like day cares and community gardens, or affordable housing. When such organizations fail to pay property taxes or apply for appropriate tax abatements and their debt is sold to private entities for collection and potential foreclosure, key community services are unnecessarily placed at risk. New Yorkers striving to improve their neighborhoods are also unnecessarily burdened.

Many small not-for-profits have never applied for available property tax exemptions due to a lack of information; their members simply pay property taxes as billed to them every year. In many cases, individual members actually receive and pay the bills for years or decades out of personal funds because they see the risk of losing their church, garden or other key community property as too great and have never realized that other options exist. When those members move away, die or stop paying for personal reasons, community anchors are threatened.

The tax lien sale allows properties acquired through charity and public money to become private properties when buyers of the tax debt foreclose. Below are five recommendations for improving the process of tax assessment and collection on these properties that will help preserve our communities’ investments and ensure that New Yorkers have places to thrive, together.

Thanks to your advocacy, the Department of Finance took the Garden of Youth out of the tax lien sale in 2016 and reversed prior lien sales against this property. The debt on the garden property is now back in the City’s control and we continue to work to eliminate it. Here are four changes to the policy you can urge your elected officials to support:

  1. Create an internal Department of Finance mechanism for determining which properties in the City are owned by not-for-profit corporations and educating the administrators of those organizations about the availability of tax exemptions for properties used for eligible purposes. Join us on November 10, 2016, at Fordham Law School as we partner with the NYC Department of Finance Taxpayer Advocate on the first targeted presentation of this kind. Details here.
  1. Exclude all not-for-profit–owned properties from the tax lien sale. Properties belonging to not-for-profits in such distress should be transferred to other not-for-profits, not allowed to become market commodities. Not-for-profit–owned properties should be excluded from the tax lien sale whether or not the subject properties are eligible for any tax abatement.
  1. Provide additional support to not-for-profit administrators who contact the Department of Finance. 
  1. Eliminate annual renewal requirement for not-for-profits that receive a property tax exemption. The New York State constitution mandates that tax exemptions for real property used for religious, educational or charitable purposes and owned by any corporation or association organized or conducted exclusively for one or more of such purposes and not operating for profit cannot be altered or repealed.

You can find out more about the impact of the tax lien sale on community property here.

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In 2016, We Successfully Supported People Power Over Properties with Deed Restrictions Placed on Behalf of Us New Yorkers

127 West 138th Street in Harlem, which is used as an open space and lawn by neighbors, is restricted to community facility use by a restriction in the deed that was placed on the date of the property purchase by a developer at auction from the city for a reduced price

127 West 138th Street in Harlem, which is used as an open space and lawn by neighbors, is restricted to community facility use by a deed restriction that was placed on the date of the property purchase by a developer at auction from the City for a reduced price.

In September, we testified before City Council, asking for much stronger rules governing the City lifting deed restrictions than were introduced by members at the time (read that here).

Following the hearing, the weak bill that was its subject, Intro 1182, was significantly expanded, reflecting many of our requests.  The new policy concerning the modification and removal of deed restrictions includes the following:

• A requirement that City to construct and maintain an online, public, searchable database of any properties with deed restrictions since 1966.

• Notification the local Council Member, Community Board and Borough President of any deed restriction removal request.

• Detailed standards and procedures that the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) would follow when a property owner requests that a deed restriction be modified or removed.

• Require that three separate entities — DCAS, a specially formed committee, and the Mayor — all independently review a request before a restriction can be lifted and assess a defined list of factors to determine whether the request furthers the best interests of the City, including the potential impact of the request on the neighborhood, the availability of community-based services and affordable housing.

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