UPDATE: Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Finance Commissioner Jacques Jiha announced on September 4, the postponement of the annual tax lien sale until September 25, 2020 to give New Yorkers additional time to pay debt or enter into payment plans. The City will continue its outreach efforts to affected homeowners.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and a group of 57 elected officials sent a letter yesterday urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to delay the city’s annual tax and water lien sale as the pandemic continues to inflict hardship on homeowners.
The tax lien sale was to take place on May 15th, but was postponed to September 4 due to the pandemic, and is the means by which the city sells overdue water and property tax bills, and right now there are 4,700 residential buildings with 1-3 units that are on the list. Once sold, debt collectors can increase interest and fees, up to 18%, and can land some homeowners in foreclosure.The nonprofit Center for NYC Neighborhoods put together this map, which summarizes the issue – the hardest-hit areas are also the poorest ones. Starrett City had the highest COVID-19 death rates in the city. It also has some of the highest numbers of properties on the tax lien sale list – Flatlands, Canarsie, Starrett City, East New York all had over 300 properties on the list.
“This decision to move forward with the lien sale is especially difficult to comprehend in light of evidence that it inordinately impacts communities of color. The City is far more likely to sell a lien in a majority Black or Hispanic neighborhood than in a majority white neighborhood.“Communities of color have been at the frontlines of the battle against COVID – suffering a disproportionate burden of the health impacts, stepping up more than others to work in essential jobs to ensure the health, safety, and security of all New Yorkers, and bearing a greater burden financially than other New Yorkers. Moving forward with the lien sale will only serve to make matters worse for these communities, uprooting families, eliminating financial security, and converting wealth into debt,” AG James writes in the letter to the Mayor.“At a time of deep financial instability across our city, especially in vulnerable communities of color, I urge the Department of Finance to cancel this year’s lien sale for small property owners,” State Senator Zellnor Myrie said in a statement. “City government should be working to support homeowners burdened by the pandemic and recession, not selling off their accumulated wealth to the private market.”
The extensive outreach the city normally conducts to ensure residents in debt to the city are aware of what may happen, and informs them of their options, officials say was “was not done at nearly the same levels as in years past.”
They are also concerned that Mayor announced on August 23 that the sale would in fact occur on September 4 – less than two weeks later – ensuring many vulnerable families and individuals may not have any information about how to remove their homes from the sale or even be aware that their property is included in the sale.
The letter was signed by the following elected officials from Brooklyn: Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams, State Senators Andrew Gounardes, Zellnor Myrie, and Kevin Parker, Council Members Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Justin Brannan, Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Laurie A. Cumbo, Brad Lander, Farah Louis, Alan Maisel, Carlos Menchaca, and Mark Treyger.The nonprofit Center for NYC Neighborhoods has a full guide to the lien sale list for homeowners, including how to get off the lien sale list before it’s too late.