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De Blasio Eyes Steeper Taxes On Vacant Lots

Mayor-Elect Hopes Hike Will Spur Development Of Affordable Housing

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has a message for owners of empty lots zoned for residential construction: Build up or pay up.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, supporters say it will unshackle the potential of vacant lots in the outer boroughs. Crain’s New York Business estimates there are 10,500 residential lots in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. They are currently taxed at the low single-family-home rate.

Martin Dunn, president of Dunn Development Corp, which specializes in affordable-housing projects, said it’s a loophole that encourages owners to let lots sit empty.

“If a parcel is zoned for an apartment building to be built on it, why is it being taxed as if it was land for a single-family house?” Dunn said.

De Blasio agrees and wants to reclassify all those lots as commercial properties, dramatically increasing their tax bills over a five-year phase-in period. For example, one property in the Highbridge section of the Bronx would have its tax bill jump from about $8,000 a year to $180,000 once de Blasio’s plan is fully implemented.

The goal is to spur development of affordable housing — the theory being that lot owners would rather sell to developers than face dramatically higher taxes.

“I think there’s two big benefits for affordable housing,” Dunn said. “One is that the revenue generated by the taxes is going back into affordable housing. But it also should help bring properties back onto the market.”

A key campaign promise from de Blasio was to increase affordable housing.

Lis Smith, de Blasio’s spokeswoman, said: “Where we have rules like this that are holding us back, his administration will make the changes needed to get shovels in the ground.”

Just like his proposal to raise income taxes on the wealthy to pay for universal pre-kindergarten, de Blasio will have to win approval from the state Legislature to increase taxes on vacant lots.

Some New Yorkers, however, are taken aback by the plan.

“I think that they shouldn’t double no taxes,” said Patricia Serrano, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

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