By Mark Hallum

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) have announced the passage of a bill designed to expand access to the J-51 Tax Abatement for middle-class condo and co-op owners. The bill is a small step, compared to years prior, in the right direction.

J-51 is. a tax exemption for the cost of modifications or repairs to a building. In 1992, co-op repairs and updates with an assessed value of under $40,000 were eligible to receive a tax exemption. However, the limit was dropped in 2013 to $30,000, barring many middle-class families from benefiting. The bills presented by Avella and Braunstein to raise the tax abatement limit were passed unanimously in the Senate and the Assembly, and raises the limit to $32,000 while increasing with the cost-of-living.

“The cost of living in New York is always on the rise, making it difficult for middle-class families to afford living in the state. Cutting the qualification threshold for the J-51 tax abatement from $40,000 to $30,000 in 2013 was a step in the complete opposite direction. Rather than increasing the cap to account for those cost increases, access to the tax abatement put it out of reach for even more families,” Avella said at a news conference at the Glen Oaks Oval.

“Over time, as assessments continue to rise, more and more co-op units have fallen out of the J-51 program,” said Braunstein. “This legislation increases the assessment value from $30,000 to $32,000 and ties it to the cost-of-living adjustment percentage so the cap can keep increasing over the years, helping middle-class families afford the cost of capital improvements.”.

According to Avella, he and state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) formed the Bronx-Queens Coalition, which brought together 20 to 25 co-op presidents in the two boroughs to resolve issues affecting co-op and condo owners. One of the major issues, which came out of the coalition, was the declining assessments for the J-51.

The bill could potentially bring financial relief to seniors whose Social Security benefits are not increasing but who are still having to pay for the rising costs of maintenance and updates.

Windows designed to insulate against the elements have recently been installed in the sprawling Glen Oaks Village Co-op.

“Without the J-51 program, monthly maintenance would have had to increase 16 percent to fully pay for these new windows, which would have been devastating to many of our seniors and working class families. This issue is not sexy and does not garner much conversation around the dinner table, but is truly one of the most important programs that help keep our affordable co-ops,affordable,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Co-op.

Avella said a previous attempt to raise the qualification level to $50,000 was rejected by the de Blasio administration. Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, issued a statement in support of the increase to $32,000.

“This legislation is an important step toward easing the financial burden on seniors and middle-class New Yorkers and helping co-op and condo owners keep up with the essential maintenance of their homes,” he said.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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