‘Save Citylights’: Residents of Long Island City co-op rally protest tax bill in front of City Hall (UPDATED)

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

Citylights residents and elected officials rallied in front of City Hall on July 17 to protest the rising cost of their Long Island City co-op.

Residents of Queens’ largest affordable housing co-op demanded that Mayor Bill de Blasio cancel a “massive, unfair tax bill levied against the complex on July 1.”

“When I moved to Citylights over 20 years ago, it was because the government promised it would stay affordable. Now, we are at risk of losing the homes — and community — we helped create. Please Mayor de Blasio, save Citylights,” said resident Brett Crandle.

A deal made between the city and the state resulted in the Citylights residents being saddled with a $5.8 million tax bill, a heavy debt that co-op members claim is impossible to be paid in full. Many of the people who live in the building are middle-class residents, a number of whom are at or nearing retirement age.

During the protest, the residents brought a copy of the tax bill to City Hall, with the words “return to sender” written on it.

In addition, the Citylights inhabitants have been faced with mortgage costs, repair bills and annual rent to the state in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement. Residents also pointed out that they pay more in maintenance costs per month than those who live in the nearby luxury high rises pay in rent.

“With each day that passes, I – and many other middle-class families like mine – worry about losing our homes. Our government must keep its promise and keep our homes affordable,” said resident Shelley Cohen, who mentioned that her daughter was the first baby born in the building over 20 years ago.

Following pressure from Citylights residents and elected officials, a spokesperson for Empire State Development (ESD), which was responsible for building Citylights, said they were ready to work with the city to come up with a workable solution for those living in the co-op.

ESD added that they were “waiting on the city’s mandated written consent to move forward.”

According to residents, the mayor has said he believes affordable housing is a priority, yet they have “sent multiple letters to Mayor de Blasio” asking that he authorize re-negotiation of the PILOT agreement to no avail.

Joining the longtime co-op residents at Tuesday’s rally were elected officials including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, Senator Michael Gianaris and representatives from the offices of Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

All four officials have called on the mayor to take action to help the residents keep their homes.

“The city needs to step up, too,” Gianaris said. “These are the people who have made the community what it is; these are the people who have made it so desirable to come here. The last thing we want to do is drive them out of the neighborhood because it became too expensive. They came here because it was supposed to be affordable and it’s supposed to continue to be affordable.”

The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about what the city will do for Citylights moving forward.

On July 9, the New York City Department of Finance responded to a letter that Assemblywoman Nolan wrote to the mayor in June on behalf of the Citylights residents.

The DOF said that Citylights had filed an appeal with the New York City Tax Commission for the property’s tax year 2018-2019 assessment. They added that the Tax Commission was an independent agency who had the authority to review DOF assessments and that they had tentatively scheduled a hearing to review the tax assessment in mid-August.

DOF mentioned that while Citylights’ appeal is pending, they do not have the legal right to make any changes or adjustments to the property’s valuation. However, they would “continue to work with the property owners and board, as well as you [Nolan] and other elected officials, within the parameters allowed by law.”

Updated on July 18 at 11 a.m. to reflect comments from the NYC Department of Finance.