Report: COVID-19 Worsened NYC’s Property Tax Disparity
Real Estate In-Depth | September 7, 2023
ALBANY—The COVID-19 pandemic has caused property tax disparity to worsen in New York City, driving housing costs higher for many, according to a report released on Sept. 6 by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
Property tax disparities have been well documented for decades by advocates, fiscal monitors and the city, but the report found even when property values declined for many condos, co-ops and rental apartments due to the pandemic, property tax bills continued to rise. The State Comptroller determined this was due in part to market volatility and aspects of how the city calculates property taxes.
“New York City’s residential real estate market has proven resilient to the pandemic as prices remain strong,” said DiNapoli. “This benefits the city because property taxes account for about 45% of the city’s revenue. However, property tax disparity has gotten worse since the pandemic, which is concerning because it’s driving up housing costs for those less able to afford it, and at the same time, the city faces a shortage of affordable housing. A recalibration of the process used to determine tax bills is needed if the city wants to remain accessible to working- and middle-class families.”
New York City sets different tax rates based on class of property, including for single or multi-family homes with more than three units. In addition, co-ops and condos are generally not assessed based on market value driven by sales prices, but instead on the value of similar apartments, including rent-stabilized units or those in a building receiving a tax exemption.
Market value increases are also limited by annual and five-year caps that differ based on property type. As a result of these caps, a decline in market value on lower-valued properties does not necessarily result in a lower tax bill. Instead, lower-valued properties more often bear a far greater tax burden than the city’s highest-valued properties.
For example, during the Great Recession the median market value for family homes dropped by 14.3%, but the median tax bill increased by 32.5%. Similarly, during the pandemic, the median market value for multifamily properties declined by 2.7% but the median tax bill increased by 5.8% from fiscal years 2021 to 2023. For rentals, tax bills grew 9.6% in the same period, despite a market value decline of 0.3%.
DiNapoli’s report found these differences were even more pronounced from fiscal years 2007 to 2024 as the gap in tax burden based on property value continued to widen. The median tax bill for the city’s most expensive family homes grew by 131% during this period, compared to 149% for the city’s least expensive homes.
Renters are also impacted by the city’s tax system even though they do not own their homes. While tenants do not pay property taxes directly, property taxes represent a large cost to the building owner which is often passed on to renters. During the pandemic, rental properties in the top 20th percentile saw a market value decline of 2% and tax bills rose by 2.1%, while the bottom 20th percentile saw the market value rise by 1.7% and tax bills go up by 11%.
Overall, the pandemic drove New York City’s residential property values up 11% since fiscal year 2021, but not in Manhattan, which is home to some of the city’s most expensive residential real estate. Market value increases were more concentrated in the outer boroughs in working-to-middle-class neighborhoods.
DiNapoli recommends city and state leaders continue their efforts to address disparities in the levying of property taxes, which represent an outsized share of owner costs, especially for lower-income households. The State Comptroller also suggests city and state officials consider:
• Accounting for how residential property taxes respond to economic disruption to avoid worsening existing issues.
• Revisiting the Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform’s recommendations to reform the current tax system while maintaining the level of total tax collections.
• Working to address the city’s lack of affordable housing, including consideration for tax incentives to promote their construction and rehabilitation.