The building was created in 1996 as an affordable housing option and was geared toward middle-income families.
As the 20-year tax abatement comes to an end for the building, the Department of Finance did an evaluation of the building’s property value. The evaluation, based on the luxury rentals that have developed around the Citylights co-op, is the grounds for the 87 percent increase in property taxes.
Joanna Rock, president of the board at Citylights, sees the evaluation as inequitable because it was based on neighboring buildings in Queens West, which are luxury high-rise rentals owned by national companies.
“They have far better amenities than us, they’re not co-ops and they were never intended for middle-income housing,” she said.
Rock also explained that the building was planning for a $3 million tax increase, but because of the increase of the property value, that tax bill was doubled. Now the building is expected to pay $6 million in taxes starting July 1.
Due to this tax increase, there will be no money left in the budget for maintenance, Rock said. This will lead to a 60 percent increase on the owners’ maintenance fees as well.
According to Rock, there are many possible solutions to this problem. The state could renegotiate the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) plan or extend the abatement for another 15 years like the rest of the newer abatement plans call for.
The president said it helps that elected officials such as Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Michael Gianaris are on board as well, but they need the mayor to agree to work with the state on a negotiation.
Gianaris represents the residents of the CityLights building and spoke out on their behalf at an unrelated event in Long Island City last week.
“These are the people who have made this community what it is,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is drive them out of the neighborhood because it becomes too expensive.”
Sherry Amatenstein, a longtime Citylights shareholder, is concerned about her continued presence in this building, where community play a large role in everyday life.
“There is a real sense of a small town community in the neighborhood,” she said. “People take care of one another. Now there’s a good chance I soon won’t be able to continue living here in my dream home.”
Empire State Development has said in reports that the state is willing to help Citylights residents, and is waiting on the city’s mandated written consent to move forward.
“We need the city and the state to step up and do something because we’re more than willing to pay fair taxes,” Rock said, “but the taxes being levied on us are very unfair and it will force people out of their homes.”