New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James announced Friday afternoon that Cuomo issued an executive order postponing New York City’s 2020 Tax Lien Sale because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The controversial tax lien sale, which was postponed once already because of the pandemic, was set to take place on Friday, September 4. The executive order did not give another date for the sale but it gives the city more time to conduct outreach to homeowners so they can pay their unpaid water, sewer or property tax bill or enter a payment plan with the city.
“COVID-19 caused enormous disruption in the daily lives of New Yorkers, including their ability to keep a roof over their head,” Cuomo said. “The tax and water lien sale was delayed in May in recognition of this hardship, and given the current economic climate it makes sense to delay it again so that homeowners aren’t facing further uncertainty.”
The tax lien sale would put an additional financial burden on homeowners, especially those in communities of color, who are already suffering from the economic impacts of coronavirus pandemic, said James.
“It is the responsibility of government to relieve the financial hardships of the people wherever possible, not exacerbate them,” said James, who sent a letter to the mayor earlier this week with 57 other elected officials asking him to call off the sale.
In the lead up to the now postponed sale, the local elected officials pressured New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel or postpone. The effort was led by a contingent from Southeast Queens which had three of the top five city council districts in the city with properties on the tax lien sale list. The sale would put property owners, particularly small homeowners of color, at risk of losing their homes while the city is in the midst of an ongoing public health crisis, they said. They introduced legislation, held press conferences and sent letters calling on the mayor to cancel or postpone it but it was to no avail.
As recently as yesterday, de Blasio said that the tax lien sale would go on as planned. The liens on the list were set to be sold before the pandemic and were not on the list because of the pandemic, he said. The city is in a fiscal crisis and the tax lien sale would bring in much needed revenue.
But, on Friday, minutes after Cuomo announced the executive order, de Blasio released his own statement saying that the sale would take place later in the month.
“COVID-19 has hit the pocketbooks of New Yorkers hard, and we’re doing whatever we can to give New Yorkers some relief,” said de Blasio. “Postponing the lien sale will allow New Yorkers more time to work with the city on their best path forward.”
The Southeast Queens lawmakers, State Senator Leroy Comrie (D-Briarwood, Cambria Heights, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Hillcrest, Jamaica, Jamaica Estates, Jamaica Hills, Kew Gardens, Laurelton, Queens Village, Rosedale, South Jamaica, Springfield Gardens, St. Albans), State Assemblymember David Weprin (D-Richmond Hill, Fresh Meadows), Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee and City Councilmembers I. Daneek Miller (D-Cambria Heights, Hollis, Jamaica, St. Albans, Queens Village, and Springfield Gardens) and Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica, Richmond Hill, Rochdale Village, South Ozone Park), thanked Cuomo and James for postponing the sale.
“The families in Queens that we represent and those throughout New York City are still struggling, which is why we called on the Mayor to take immediate action to cancel the lien sale,” said Comrie, Weprin, Lee, Miller and Adams in a group statement.
The postponement saved thousands from predatory debt collectors, they said, and gives the city much needed time to work with the property owners. But the city now needs to take advantage of that extra time.
“We urge the city to lay out a robust plan for contacting and assisting at-risk property owners over the coming weeks,” they said.