Buffalo residents and community leaders gathered recently at the former School 77, home to PUSH Buffalo’s Community Room, to discuss the possibility of a steep rise in property tax rates that will affect certain neighborhoods. Community groups, who have been meeting for several months outlined the issue and possible solutions for what to do about it.
The City of Buffalo is conducting its first city-wide revaluation in more than a decade. The result will determine the 2020 property tax bills for Buffalo homeowners.
Home values in some parts of the City have risen dramatically in the last 10 years. Certain neighborhoods, including Downtown, Fruit Belt, Allentown, First Ward and areas on the West and East sides, are becoming hot markets. Many homes now have a market value worth double or triple what owners paid for them just a decade ago. For example, according to the City’s OARS website, average sales in the neighborhood west of Grant Street are $100,000, while those homes’ average assessed value is $33,000.
While rising property value may look like a boom to homeowners, for those who do not wish to sell their home, it can be detrimental. Residents who bought their homes for a modest price a decade ago now find themselves with homes valued far higher.
Housing appreciation does help those who can afford it to build wealth and pass it on to future generations. But for low and moderate income owners who wish to stay in their homes, increased property values have a negative impact when they lead to increased property taxes – especially when wage earner income does not rise along with assessed property value.
While the City’s tax rate is slated to decrease due to an overall increase in property values, homes with rapid appreciation are likely to see a significant increase in tax burdens.
Senior citizens, retirees and residents who live on a fixed or low income may find that a substantial increase in property tax could make their home unaffordable, forcing them to sell. Colden Ray, a homeownership counselor at Belmont Housing Resources for WNY, said, “We have seen even moderate tax increases cause long-term homeowners and their families to become displaced through municipal or bank foreclosures—causing the loss of generational wealth. A reassessment without an exemption for lower income homeowners could be devastating to families and our entire community.”
Community organizations and homeowners from affected neighborhoods from across the City have come together to develop a policy to protect these vulnerable residents. The Property Tax Coalition—which includes groups like West Side and Black Rock Riverside Neighborhood Housing Services, Allentown Association, Fruit Belt Advisory Council, the Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH Buffalo and others—is proposing that the City adopt a partial property tax exemption for income-qualifying homeowners whose assessments will dramatically increase. This would allow long-time homeowners to remain in their homes—maintaining neighborhood stability and the rich history of our city.
The Coalition hopes that the State will pass a bill this session, allowing the City to move forward and ensure that homeowners are protected from displacement.