Leaders Speak up for Homeowners as Predatory Investors Loom

Ironic would appear to be the only word for the next tax lien auction scheduled to take place one week before Christmas. But heartless fits the bill, and criminal, most likely, is best.
Note the following bold statements from websites to potential investors in Brooklyn lien properties:
“As of December 1, Brooklyn New York currently has 1,390 tax liens available. Are you looking to buy a tax lien in Brooklyn New York? What happens when you buy a tax lien? Home buyers and Investors buy the liens in Brooklyn New York at a tax lien auction or online auction. These buyers bid for an interest rate on the taxes owed and the right to collect back that money plus an interest payment from the property owner. The relatively high interest rate makes tax liens an attractive investment.” (taxliens.com)


“Investing in tax liens in Bedford Stuyvesant, NY, is one of the least publicized — but safest — ways to make money in real estate. In fact, the rate of return on property tax liens investments in Bedford Stuyvesant, NY, can be anywhere between 15 and 25% interest. (Foreclosure.com)
Leaders Al Vann and Annette Robinson — residents of Central Brooklyn –have consistently spoken up on the issue for more than a decade. BK Reader has consistently covered 2021 lien story. Last month, the media outlet printed an opinion in its November 22, 2021 Local Voices column.

Op-Ed
STOP THE LIEN SALE

For many years, Bridge Street has conducted outreach to property owners on the lien sale list in an effort to preserve homeownership by the residents of our community. And for many years, as a direct result of the tax lien sale, the rate of homeownership by black and brown people in our community has continued to decline.
The lien sale has served as motivation and incentive for deed theft and scammers that have preyed on our community, particularly elderly homeowners. In the outreach to property owners on the lien sale list it has become clear that predatory investors have already positioned themselves to initiate foreclosure, become vulture buyers and circumvent the rightful transfer of property to family members.
The lien sale has become a magnet for fraud because while the City is focused on recouping an average lien of $15,000, the scammers are focused on the value of our property, which is likely to average in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As the lien sale has historically had a disproportionately adverse effect on Black and Hispanic homeowners, this lien sale, in the midst of a pandemic, will have a devastating impact in the communities that have been hardest hit economically by COVID-19.
At a time when the Administration and Council have implemented several programs and actions to address the racial income and wealth gap, the City should not continue a fiscal and financial practice that only intensifies the wealth gap. The tax lien sale should be cancelled and we look forward to working with the City to develop alternative solutions that address both sides of this issue. Stop the Tax Lien Sale…


Another BK Reader story (Nov. 19, 2021) reported on a rally at City Hall calling for Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel the controversial sale scheduled for Dec. 17. The story called attention to the work of the Coalition for Affordable Homes, which comprises 28 housing nonprofits, community associations, local development corporations and legal services agencies, organized the rally and was joined by City Council members Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Carlina Rivera and Robert Cornegy. Following are excerpts:
Cornegy, who represents Bed-Stuy, said the City’s lien sale was intended to incentivize property owners to pay their taxes, but this year’s sale would ‘likely force minority property owners to lose generational wealth.’
“It also threatens the homes of many renters, all while we are still reeling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clearly in the interest of New York City to delay the sale at this precarious moment,” he said.
The lien sale is held every year by the New York City Departments of Finance and Environmental Protection, where the tax liens on properties with unpaid property taxes and water bills are sold off in an auction.
This year, the Department of Environmental Protection has opted out of the sale, which will only include Department of Finance held property tax liens, not water and sewer liens.


However, the reduced sale still includes 11,194 properties that have outstanding property tax and emergency repair payments that are past-due to the City. There are 3,657 one-to-three family homes, 3,295 apartment buildings and 4,242 other properties on the list.
In a recent analysis, the Coalition for Affordable Homes found that of the liens sold in Brooklyn in 2011, nearly half of the one- to three-family homes were sold within five years of the lien sale, compared to 13% of similar properties in the borough during the period.
Christie Peale, CEO and executive director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, said with the pandemic still surging, it was “incredibly bad timing for another tax lien sale.”
“New Yorkers, especially in communities of color, have been so hard-hit by the pandemic, and homeowners and their tenants are still struggling to recover,” she said.
“Going forward with the tax lien sale would create undue burden and stress for our neighbors and their tenants at a time when they need more support than ever.”


The Coalition for Affordable Homes recommends that New York City lawmakers conduct a racial impact analysis to understand the impact of tax lien sales’ on vulnerable homeowners. Other recommendations include:
-Do not sell liens on taxes for homes with only one to three units (class 1), coops, or condos
-Improve payment plan accessibility
-Allow seniors to access property tax exemptions on a rolling basis, and to start receiving their exemptions at any point during the taxable year after an application has been approved. In cases where homeowners recertify their exemptions after they have expired (as they do annually by law), arrears should be retroactively reduced.
-In the case of a new tax lien or homeowner reapplication for tax exemption, the city should look back into three years of the owner’s tax history to look for exemptions and ensure the property actually does belong on the list. For seniors newly-enrolled in the exemption program who have outstanding tax balances, allow the same three-year lookback to check for previous exemptions– once again to determine if the property properly belongs on the list.
-Allow heirs to enter into payment plans.
-Improve pre-sale noticing, communications and outreach (including info on how to access housing counseling, legal services).


Earlier (in November), a group of 57 elected officials from across New York led by the state’s attorney general called on de Blasio to stall the tax lien sale. In a letter to de Blasio co-signed by the other electeds, Attorney General Letitia James said New Yorkers must be given the chance to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic “without being forcibly removed from their homes.”

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