Each year, the city attempts to sell off the outstanding tax and water debts of homeowners to private investors. In addition to collecting the debt, lien buyers can decide to foreclose on the properties. This means that this process places the fate of thousands of homeowners each year in the hands of private entities whose interests are in profit-making. Southeast Queens is one of the regions with the highest concentrations of tax liens sold in NYC.

As Assembly members Harvey Epstein and Robert Carroll point out: “These companies are incentivized to rack up as many fees as possible, plunging property owners further into debt, and hindering families’ efforts to get back on track financially,” the letter states. “Even worse: these investors are often incentivized to quickly foreclose on the debt, strip the homeowner of their equity, displace the homeowner, and flip the asset for a significant payout.”

We support the call from our neighbors in eastern Brooklyn to abolish the tax lien sale. “The privatization of debt in our communities through the tax-lien sale guarantees displacement, and ushers in gentrification on a city-sanctioned red carpet. The city should be moving with a sense of urgency and empathy to not only suspend the 2020 tax lien sale, but permanently end its discriminatory effects on poor Black and Latinx communities,” said Florentino.Alternatively, community ownership models like community land trusts must be explored alternative avenues.