The East New York Community Land Trust and the Coalition for Community Advancement gathered tenants, homeowners, and a coalition of Brooklyn electeds and hopeful candidates running for office, to unite against the tax lien sale and to pass the Small Homes Anti-Speculation Act, on Saturday, November 14.
A tax lien sale happens when homeowners do not pay or fall behind on their property taxes, water bills, and other charges, and these unpaid charges become tax liens that the city’s Department of Finance sells the lien debt to an authorized buyer, who then can add more fees and interest to the homeowner’s debt.
Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville), State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, East New York), Comptroller and Mayoral Candidate Scott Stringer, and Comptroller Candidate and Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington) spoke at the rally, while Candidates Nikki Lucas for the 42nd District, Rick Echevarria and Sandy Nurse for the 37th District, showed up to support the community.
“We have to say to the city council that you have the power in your hands right now, in your stated meetings, to bring the abolition of this very aggressive and regressive tax law that you placed on these books in order to balance the city’s budget on the backs of the working force,” said Walker. “We’re all out here making just enough money to be broke. We may be broke but we are not broken.”
The rally started at 486 Glenmore Avenue, a three-story building on the tax lien sale list, and toured the neighborhood’s closed and boarded up properties.
“Tenants and homeowners have come together to fight against racist speculation. If the walls could talk what would they say?” said Community Organizer Albert Scott speaking about the Glenmore house. “Where is that family now as you see this place boarded up? I’m scared and terrified to know where they are. Are we feeding the shelter industrial complex because in the rezoning area we see six hotel developments? And they say hotels but we know what those hotels turn into. They’re nothing but shelters.”
Scott and the other organizers demanded a freeze to the rezoning in East New York, a stronger stance against speculators, and for the city council to abolish the tax lien sale.
The East New York Community Land Trust began petitioning a month ago for a no reauthorization of the lien sale, meaning a rejection of the bill that was voted on and passed in 2017. The current law authorizing the tax lien sale expires December 31, 2020.
The rally ended at the famous Mrs. Maxwell’s Bakery, which was a staple in the community until bought by a developer and shut down two years ago.
“Behind me. Is the building that has been Mrs. Maxwell’s bakery,” said Salazar. “For decades this was a fixture, a staple in the East New York community. People who’ve lived here for a long time can tell you about that. In 2018, this property was purchased for more than $11 million dollars by an investor who has also bought many other properties in the area. Not someone who’s trying to buy a home to live here but who’s just trying to make a profit right. He was able to buy this property, and we saw it’s just one example of a transfer of property away from people who live in this community to people who are not deeply invested in the community.”
Salazar called out the rezoning several years ago that didn’t hold up the promised commitments and conditions to the community, and said that the developer intends to build market-rate housing where the beloved bakery is.
She added, “We’re going to be fighting so that in this upcoming session with the Coalition for Community Advancement and my office, I will be introducing a new Anti-Speculation Act. It’s going to hold the speculators accountable. We’re talking about attacks on transactions that currently are just rampant in East New York and they’re directly contributing to the displacement and the destabilization of this community.”
The Anti-Speculation Act, which imposes a tax on the transfer of property within two years in a push to help homeowners, was also a major sticking point at the rally. Many residents complained about being harassed, having people constantly knock on their doors and offering to buy their houses with cash. Residents angrily spoke of predatory and “racist” practices that make them feel targeted as Black and Brown home and property owners in East New York.
“We have set up so many of our policies in a way that does that. That instead of treating our homes like homes we treat them like commodities to be bought and sold,” said Lander, who said that during his time in city council he would not vote for any additional tax lien sales.
“This community has suffered at the hands of the city for a very long time. That gentleman is a hundred percent right, the rezoning plan for East New York was a gentrification plan, right, built under the guise of affordable housing,” said Stringer. “You don’t create a list of people who are struggling and then take their homes through third-party transfers. People who are predatory, people who are evicting people, while the city stands by. That must change. And it’s going to take this year. It’s not just to delay it, it’s time to end it. We’ve already seen what happens when we have anything. We have got to be more proactive so I stand with you.”