Op-Ed: Where Is Our Tax Break?
By Joanna Rock
About four months before the announcement of a rich package of tax breaks and subsidies for corporate behemoth Amazon, my neighbors and I at Citylights, a Long Island City co-op, sent a desperate letter to the mayor and governor. The abatement on our affordable housing complex was about to run out, and we faced a $5 million New York City tax bill.
We had pled for action for years — but now, many of our 1,000 middle- and fixed-income residents would be facing the loss of their homes. We begged for help. We got crickets.
Now we know that at about the same time, city and state officials were discussing a deal to reward one of the world’s largest companies with $3 billion in taxpayer-backed incentives to locate in Long Island City.
Amazon got its money. A few blocks away, Citylights residents are still waiting for relief.
In defense of the Amazon deal, Mayor Bill de Blasio said it “secures more funding for the priorities that make people’s lives better.” But Citylights’ residents can’t help but ask: Whose priorities? Which people?
Many of my neighbors have lived at Citylights since it opened 20 years ago. We moved in because the government promised it would stay affordable. It hasn’t.
The same state agency that authorized Amazon’s sweetheart deal — Empire State Development (ESD) — saddled Ciylights residents with a massive $85.6 million mortgage and shoddy construction that cost us another $10 million.
To add insult to injury, ESD also collects $470,000 a year in “ground lease” rent from Citylights — seven times more per square foot than Amazon will be paying for its property. Even worse, other massive companies with nearby headquarters, like Rockrose and Amazon site developer TFC Cornerstone, pay just $1 a year to the state.
If it wanted to, ESD could charge us the same nominal amount. It won’t.
Meanwhile, Citylights residents made their first massive tax payment to the city a few months ago, with more due soon — payments we simply cannot afford. The taxes are the result of the city’s indifference and a deeply flawed property-tax system that somehow equates our middle-income co-op complex with the luxurious for-profit rental buildings next door.
With the swipe of his pen, Mayor de Blasio could restore the tax abatement that fairly protected our residents and more than 500 affordable apartments for two decades. Instead, he used that pen to sign the Amazon deal.
Maybe Amazon’s new Queens headquarters will eventually deliver the jobs and tax revenue the mayor and governor promised. Maybe it won’t. Either way, the “priorities” of the city and state should include affordable housing and the middle-income residents who need help right now.
Joanna Rock is a Citylights shareholder.