Last Thursday, CityLights residents rallied outside their building near Gantry Plaza State Park with Comptroller Scott Stringer, who vowed to get city and state officials to work together to solve their dilemma.
The co-op was built in 1996 as affordable housing for middle-class families. But last July, the building’s assessed value nearly doubled, resulting in a tax increase of nearly 60 percent in monthly charges over the next five years..
The tax increase coincided with the end of their 20-year tax abatement, raising fear among longtime residents that their homes will no longer be affordable.
“This is not going to happen on our watch,” Stringer said.
The comptroller called on the city’s Department of Finance to work with Empire State Development Corporation on an abatement package for CityLights.
In a January 2nd letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Stringer urged the administration to use the tools at their disposal to avoid the displacement of families from their homes.
“All we’re asking for is some mitigation to keep the people who made this land so valuable in the first place,” he said.
Co-op president Joanna Rock said when she first moved to CityLights in 1998, the undeveloped area was full of abandoned warehouses and trash. The neighborhood didn’t have any supermarkets, major drug stores or many restaurants.
After living through years with “no signs of development at all,” followed by years of soil remediation, Rock said residents then had to endure noise while massive construction was going on around them.
She expressed concerns that while luxury development was rising all around them, CityLights, which was intended for the middle class, may no longer be affordable.
“When we talk to the state, they blame the city. When we talk to the city, they blame the state,” she said. “We’ve been caught in the crosshairs for too long.”
Rock was also surprised to learn that Amazon’s HQ2 would be moving in a few blocks away on the waterfront. According to the co-op president, Amazon is paying 85 percent less in taxes for a far larger plot of land.
Stringer highlighted that point by calling it “a tale of two blocks.”
“On the one hand, there’s a block that’s going to be home potentially to a large company that is going to get billions in tax breaks and benefits for coming here,” he said. “There’s another community that is actually being priced out.
“Before you announce an Amazon deal,” Stringer added, “you come here first and settle accounts here.”
Co-op treasurer Shelly Cohen added that the Amazon deal further complicates their situation by raising property values in the area. She said her family would like to stay in Long Island City, but their future is “unclear.”
“So far, the system has failed us,” Cohen said. “Why can’t they extend our abatement and give us time to get our house in order?”
Holly Leicht, executive vice president of real estate development and planning for Empire State Development, said the state agency spent several months working with city agencies to come up with a relief plan.
ESD is now waiting on the city to provide mandatory written consent for any plan to move forward.
According to Leicht, City Hall felt strongly about having an income-based approach to any abatement or relief.
“Empire State Development has collaborated with the city on a plan to keep CityLights affordable for residents in need,” said ESD spokesperson Jack Sterne, “and we look forward to implementing these fixes as soon as the city provides the official consent required to move forward.”