City must do better in how it treats nonprofits

As many in Queens will tell you, there are many nonprofits throughout the borough that have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Nonprofits have traditionally been exempt from paying property taxes on buildings they own and provide services in, like churches and nonprofit affordable housing developers.

But the city has recently decided to require these organizations to verify their nonprofit status or risk losing their property tax exemption. In some cases, these organizations would cease to exist without the property tax exemption.

Within the last month, the city has sent two notification letters with forms that the organizations are required to fill out to keep their exemption status. Out of the thousands of letters that were sent out, there are still 3,928 organizations the city is waiting to hear from and 738 of them are in Queens.

For small organizations that do not have dedicated administrative staff, like many churches, this can be burdensome as they prepare to help people during the holiday season, especially considering the short notice they received. All verification forms were due Dec. 5.

One of them is Oneness Pentecostal Tabernacle on Linden Boulevard in Queens. It has a small staff, but has been a staple in the community for many years. It fed people who were looking for meals on Thanksgiving and every Saturday it assesses the needs of the neighborhood and gives away food to the homeless.

Unfortunately, it does not currently have a staff person dedicated to handling finances, taking time away from the pastors from running these programs.

While verification of these facilities may be necessary, it comes at a precarious time. It is during these hard economic times that members of our community seek out these services most. Yet the city has so suddenly required these organizations to verify their property tax exemption status and the use eligibility of their facilities and only provided a small window of time to do so.

Whether this was done intentionally or not to capture future revenues is uncertain, but what is certain is that organizations will be required to exert what little time, energy and resources they have in turning around these forms instead of concentrating on providing needed services.

The struggling economy has forced those of us in government to make tough decisions, and many of these organizations have seen their funding dramatically slashed. At the same time, families in Queens have also had to tighten their belts, and many are desperately looking for any help they can get.

With so many people unable to afford their mortgages, rent, health insurance and other necessities, this is not the time to impose onerous information requests from organizations that help people in need.

Accountability, transparency and accurate reporting are essential to ensure compliance, but there has to be a better methodology employed that allows organizations, particularly ones with little staff, to respond to these requests in an efficient and timely manner. Some 738 Queens organizations had yet to respond to the city’s notice.

While I work with my fellow City Council colleagues to reach out to these groups, I will not only advocate for more time to complete these forms, but ask why, while we are still struggling to get the economy moving again, we are suddenly burdening institutions that have been serving people for years by threatening to take their resources away.

For any questions, please contact my office by calling 718-776-3700.

Leroy Comrie

City Councilman

(D-St. Albans)

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