LETTER: LIENING BACK

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To the Editor: In “City Liens on Poor Homeowners” [July 16], the author states that the City Council quietly voted in early June to extend the tax liens sales program for two years without a public hearing.

In fact, the Council had been considering amendments to the tax lien sales program since July 2000, when the mayor first submitted them to the Council. One of the mayor’s proposals would have changed the statutory definition of residential properties deemed distressed so that more residential properties could be included in lien sales. At a City Council public hearing on October 10, several groups testifies against the mayor’s proposals, which Council members then rejected. At another hearing on June 5, the Council voted to extend the legislation for two years. No changes were made to the legislation that affected either single- or multi-family residential properties.

Protection of residential tenants and homeowners on the tax lien sales process has been an ongoing concern for the Council. The Council negotiated with the mayor to require the removal of residential properties that were deemed distressed from tax lien sales. The Council mandated that residential homeowners be three years in arrears on property taxes before their homes are included in tax lien sales. The Council also insisted that payment plans be offered to residential homeowners and required the administration to set up a special ombudsman unit to offer assistance to homeowners whose properties were eligible for lien sales.

The action taken by the Council in June in no way precludes the Council from considering changes to the legislation at any time before the program sunsets. The advocacy community should continue to offer suggestions for improving the tax lien sales process.