The 7 Percent Non-Solution

Punishing property owners during a recession is a very strange way for a city to do business. These are the people, after all—co-op, condo and house owners—who have made a real investment in the city’s future, by putting their hard-earned money into their homes, often at great sacrifice to other living expenses. These are the people who send their kids to our schools, rather than packing up for the suburbs. And yet the City Council recently approved a 7 percent property tax increase, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is looking for ways to stem a billion-dollar deficit for 2009. At a time when the real estate industry is already struggling, there seems to be ill-informed desperation, rather than informed good judgment, behind the mayor and Council’s decision.

“New Yorkers will understand,” claimed Councilman Miguel Martinez. “Times are hard, and we’re asking everyone to pitch in.” That’s fine and dandy—except property owners have already pitched in, as their taxes have gone up 18.5 percent under the Bloomberg administration. As Councilman Simcha Felder correctly put it, “Today, the Council votes to take the bucket to the same old well and ask homeowners to bear the brunt of  a swelling budget among dwindling revenues.”

When the mayor first raised property taxes, it was in response to the economic aftershocks of 9/11. A politically unpopular move, but one could argue that the times demanded it; and Mr. Bloomberg’s  prudent paring of expenses and refusal to spend on credit created a far safer economic climate, more able to withstand the current buffeting, than might otherwise have been the case. And he gave reassurances that another property tax hike would not be in the cards.

It wasn’t so long ago that buying a home in New York City was considered an iffy proposition; random crime and abysmal schools made the city a high-risk investment. Over the past decade, and with a large thanks due to Mr. Bloomberg and his team, the city has become a safe, well-tended place in which to make one’s home, either as a single person or married with kids. And yet it would be a mistake to take homeowners’ goodwill for granted; asking them to dig deep every time the city’s well runs dry seems a foolhardy game of chicken to play. Yes, if homeowners could truly believe that city agencies have eliminated wasteful spending and that dubious pet projects of council members have been slashed, then maybe we’ll talk.  

The 7 Percent Non-Solution