On May 17, the city will foreclose on any property owner who has not yet paid off any outstanding property debt or water bills, which could mean that 600 current homeowners in Bed-Stuy could lose their home to auctions by the city.
Every year the city auctions off property that is on it’s annual tax lien list, which is property that has any tax debt on unpaid water bills and property taxes. But in 1997, as a way to generate more money, the city expanded the sale of properties that are in tax debt to include single-and three-family homes. Before this, commercial and industrial properties where the only ones that qualified to be auctioned off. Since then, many minority families have been disproportionally affected by this, especially homeowners in central Brooklyn.
“Four years ago the number of homes on the list in Bed-Stuy was 3,000. This year it’s 600. We want to get that number down to zero,” said Melissa Lee, Managing Director of the Coalition for the Improvement of Bed-Stuy (CIBS).
Luckily there are a wide array of services that can help homeowners stay out of foreclosure. One such service is the Tax Water Lien Help Night, a public service night held this past week at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation building. The goal of the night was to help community members that are on the lien list, figure out a way to get off the list and see if they qualify for any exemptions that are there to help people.
The Tax Water Lien Help Night is a partnership between councilman Al Vann, City Comptroller John Liu, The Coalition For the Improvement of Bed-Stuy, Brownstoners of Bed-Stuy, Pratt Area Community Council, Bridge Street Development Corporation, Neighborhood Housings Services of Bed-Stuy and Bed-Stuy Community Legal Services.
“If you owe outstanding money on your water bill or property bill, the city can take your property, so this tax lien night is where our coalition invites homeowners from central Brooklyn to come and meet members from the various city agencies and learn tips on how prevent the city from taking their property because of outstanding debts on the property. Seniors, the disabled, and veterans can apply for some exemptions,” said Warren Hu, a home ownership Counselor at the Bridge Street Development Corporation.
The main services offered are the one-on-one sessions with counselors from the NYC Department of Finance, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation. Through these sessions, homeowners can arrange for ways to get off the lien list and begin to pay back any outstanding debts.
“I was involved with this issue when I was with the City Council and now that I am comptroller, I am in a position that uniquely allows me to get the word out to Bed-Stuy and other parts of the city that this issue disproportionately affects,” said Comptroller Liu. “I don’t want to see any foreclosures due to this issue, that’s why we have a help night like this.”
The Tax Water Help Night also informs community members about how their home can become included on the lien list. Owing two or more years of property taxes and having unpaid water and sewer bills is the surefire way to make it onto the list.
There are exemptions for the list as well, if you are a senior citizen, disabled or a veteran, then you can qualify for exemptions, which can remove your home from the list completely.
“A lot of people can’t go down to City Hall, so we bring City Hall to them. We want to make it convenient for people to take care of this,” explained Councilman Al Vann. “We have reformed the legislation significantly, which is why there are fewer people on the list every year. One part of the legislation reform was that you don’t need to make a down payment to get off the list now. There are many options available for people, it’s not like as soon as you enter this process then you are in foreclosure.”
“The process here is 100% easy and stress free. A lot of people can’t go down to the municipal building because of work, so it is nice that they come here,” said Winston Blunt, a participant at the Water Tax Help Night. “you have to read to stay alert, if you don’t read the papers they send or don’t pay attention, then its your fault if you miss out.”