Seniors and working New Yorkers in Queens affordable co-op hit with $5.2M tax bill

Some residents face as much as a 60 percent increase in monthly carrying charges over the next five years

(New York, NY) — Today, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer and residents of CityLights – an affordable co-op in Long Island City – gathered in Gantry Park to demand relief for the building’s over-taxed middle-class residents following the expiration of a Payment-in-Lieu-of-Taxes (PILOT) agreement and a new assessment by the Department of Finance (DOF) that nearly doubled the building’s assessment from $51.7 million to $101.6 million in fiscal year (FY) 2019. This series of events could raise the monthly carrying charges for CityLights residents by nearly 60 percent over the next five years.

As a result, Comptroller Stringer sent a letter to the Mayor’s office urging the City to implement a solution that will reduce the tax burden and prevent the displacement of hundreds of families from their homes – especially at a time when its new expected neighbor, Amazon’s HQ2, is about to receive nearly $3 billion in government subsidies.

“Across the City, the very New Yorkers who made their neighborhoods desirable for companies to move in are being priced out. Meanwhile as its new neighbor negotiated billions in subsidies, CityLights residents are stuck with more than $5 million in taxes because their city failed to act,” said Comptroller Stringer. “It’s time that we show the people who built this city that we value them just as much as a multinational corporation and give them the relief they deserve.”

The Comptroller’s letter points out that while the cost of CityLights units were low when they were initially sold in the beginning of 1997, residents are also responsible for repaying the property’s $86 million mortgage that was taken out by its private developer, as well as a $500,000 ground lease to Empire State Development (ESD) – paying more per square foot than Amazon and other commercial neighbors.

In addition to these charges, when the development’s PILOT agreement expired in July 2018, DOF first increased the building’s assessment from $51.7 million to $96.9 million in FY 2018, followed by a further increase to $101.6 million in FY 2019. By the end of the exemption phase-out in 2023, residents will face a $5.2 million property tax bill – or an additional average monthly cost of nearly $1,000 per unit – undermining the ability for the co-op to remain affordable for middle-class New Yorkers.

“When my family and I moved to Long Island City decades ago, there wasn’t even a supermarket, let alone a Duane Reade,” said Shelley Cohen, resident of CityLights. “Now, the City and the State are extending handouts to big companies, like Amazon, while my middle-class neighbors and I suffer. If the City and the State can work together to lure Amazon, they can find a way to relieve of us our ground lease.”

“Long Island City is my home,” said Joanna Rock, president of the CityLights co-op. “I moved to CityLights 20 years ago because I could afford it. The governor at the time called it ‘middle income housing.’ But with our current tax bill and ground rent more and more owners are finding it to be no longer affordable and are being forced out. We once again call on the City and the State to work together and keep their promise of middle income housing.”

To read the Comptroller’s letter, click here.