Tax Lien Sale Bill Asks for Reform Taskforce

Spectator at the Abolish the Tax Lien Sale march in East New York on Nov. 16, 2020. Photo By Ariama C. Long.

City council has moved to pass legislation that may end the city’s tax lien sale. Neighborhood groups in East New York led the collective petition against it, citing that the sale disproportionately affected Black and Brown homeowners.

Electeds, like Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (D-Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Williamsburg), Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park, Red Hook, Greenwood Heights, and portions of Borough Park, Dyker Heights and Windsor Terrace), Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, Kensington), joined Councilmember Adrienne Adams (D-Queens), who sponsored the bill, and are planning to replace the tax lien sale with what they hope is a more equitable city debt collection system for communities.

Governor Andrew Cuomo had by executive order cancelled the 2020 lien sale, which expired on January 29, 2021. Lien sales will be allowed to begin again if signed into law or on February 28.

The bill, Intro 2166A-2020, cuts down reauthorization of the lien sale for one year rather than four as originally proposed and permits less liens to be sold on small 1- 3 family homes by raising the threshold for eligibility. Any owner of a property with fewer than ten units who declares that they have experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis will also be excluded.

The Abolish the NYC Tax Lien Sale Coalition, which included The East New York Community Land Trust (CLT) Initiative among several other groups across the city, said they are looking forward to working with the task force and with the incoming city councilmembers to abolish the sale after this year.

The bill also requires an appointed city task force by April to study and publicly present an adequate replacement system for the tax lien sale.

Adams said the bill has been a well fought journey thus far. “The fact we were able to secure such major changes with a broad-based group of community partners speaks volumes to what we can accomplish in the future. I look forward to continuing on this journey with our partners to secure and preserve housing for our districts in need,” said Adams.

Antonio Reynoso
Councilmember Antonio Reynoso
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca

“New York City’s lien sale disproportionately impacts black and brown homeowners, threatening families with eviction and removing precious affordable housing from our city,” said Reynoso, who is running for borough president. “It’s time to put an end to this predatory practice and there can’t be any half-stepping about it–we need to abolish the lien sale once and for all.”

Lander said he is committed to work with community partners on a new approach to the debt collection system, and wants it grounded in land trust principles to keep people in their homes.

Menchaca, who is running for Mayor, said the tax lien sale has literally been forcing residents into homelessness for years. 

Councilmember Brad Lander

“The pandemic only made this cruelty more obvious and unconscionable. It is past time to abolish this Giuliani-era policy, and replace it with a more humane and equitable approach to property debt,” said Menchaca. “Thankfully, advocates have organized and generated ideas for us, and cities around the country and the world have models we can learn from. We must start that work immediately if we are to build communities that guarantee housing as a human right to all.”