By Councilmember Leroy Comrie
As many in Queens will tell you, there are many non-profit organizations throughout the borough that have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Non-profit organizations have traditionally been exempt from paying property taxes on buildings they own and provide services in, like churches and non-profit affordable housing developers. However, the city has recently decided to require these organizations to verify their non-profit status or risk losing their property tax exemption. In some cases, these organizations would cease to exist without the property tax exemption.
Within the past month, the city has sent two notification letters with forms that the organizations are required to fill out to keep their exemption status. Out of the thousands of letters that were sent out, there are still 3,928 organizations that the city is waiting to hear from, and 738 of them are located Queens.
For small organizations that do not have dedicated administrative staff, like many churches, this can be burdensome as they prepare to help people during this holiday season, especially considering the short notice they received – all verification forms are due December 5.
One of them is Oneness Pentecostal Tabernacle on Linden Boulevard. They have a small staff but have been a staple in the community for many years. They recently fed people who were looking for a meal on Thanksgiving, and every Saturday they assess the needs of the neighborhood and give away food to the homeless. Unfortunately, they do not currently have a staff person dedicated to handling their finances, taking away time from the Pastors from running these programs.
While verification of these facilities may be necessary, it comes at a precarious time. It is during these hard economic times that members of our community seek out these services most. Yet, the city has suddenly required these organizations to verify their property tax exemption status and the eligibility of their facilities, and have only provided a small window of time to do so. Whether this was done intentionally or not to capture future revenues is uncertain. What is certain is that organizations will be required to exert what little time, energy and resources they have in turning around these forms, instead of concentrating on providing critically needed services.
The struggling economy has forced those of us in government to make tough decisions and many of these organizations have seen their funding dramatically slashed, at the same time, families in Queens have also had to tighten their belts, and many are desperately looking for any help they can get. With so many people unable to afford their mortgages, rent, health insurance, and other necessities, this is not the time to impose onerous information requests from organizations that help people in need.
Accountability, transparency and accurate reporting are essential to ensure compliance, but there has to be a better methodology employed that allows organizations, particularly ones with very little staff to respond to these requests in an efficient and timely manner. Some 738 organizations in Queens have yet to respond to the city’s notice. While I work with my fellow City Council colleagues to reach out to these groups, I will not only advocate for more time to complete these forms, but ask why, while we are still struggling to get the economy moving again, we are suddenly burdening institutions that have been serving people for years by threatening to take their resources away?
For organizations that need help obtaining the forms, or any other questions, please contact my office by calling (718) 776-3700.
May everyone have a happy and safe holiday,
Councilmember Leroy Comrie