Reassessments and Repercussions

A recent property reassessment has created shockwaves across the city, sending Buffalo homeowners and renters into a state of alarm. This past September, property owners were notified by the City that homes would be reassessed citywide for the first time since 2001. Since then, thousands of properties in every neighborhood around the city have increased in value significantly. This is good news for anyone looking to sell their home at a profit, but for around a third of Buffalo homeowners – many of whom have no intention of selling their properties anytime soon – it also means a major hike in property taxes. Many of these reassessed properties could see their bill doubled or even tripled. 

The reassessment has prompted an outcry from city residents, with many concerned that higher property taxes will make for a hefty bill next year and even force some lower-income individuals from their properties. Renters are also at risk, with the tax increase potentially spurring landlords to raise their rent to accommodate for higher expenses. Many fear that it puts the availability of housing for thousands across Buffalo into question.

This ordeal could be seen as a display of how gentrification has affected low-income areas in the city. Buffalo’s West Side, for example, has seen a sharp increase in property values over the past several years. The median sale price in the area skyrocketed from around $35K in 2010 to $114K in 2017, making potential sellers ecstatic but creating a growing uneasiness among long-time residents. Unless their properties were reassessed in separate circumstances, most homeowners have been taxed based on outdated assessments – regardless of the current market value of their home. Since the increase in the West Side’s value has been so steep in recent years, many residents can expect to see a drastic spike in their property taxes. Some experts predict that this could be catastrophic for some owners and renters, possibly contributing to a wave of displacement. Colden Ray, a homeownership counselor, explains the risk. “…even moderate tax increases cause long-term homeowners and their families to become displaced through municipal or bank foreclosure – causing the loss generational wealth.” 

Concerned residents addressed the Common Council at a meeting in early October. The Council has been considering an exemption from reassessment for certain neighborhoods, long-time homeowners, and low-income seniors. Some organizations, such as PUSH and the Buffalo Property Tax Coalition, have raised issue with the Council’s proposal. They claim that it does not broadly protect low-income residents from widespread displacement. The Partnership for the Public Good’s Sarah Wooten elaborated, “It does not protect a huge number of homeowners actually feeling the threat of reassessment.” These groups have been lobbying legislators in an effort to create tax exemptions to delay or minimize the negative effects of the reassessment. 

The property reassessment has undoubtedly stirred a sort of nervous tension among Buffalo residents. Many homeowners are left to question whether their property taxes will be unaffordable in April. Some renters are unable to foresee whether they’ll be able to pay their rent or will be permitted to live in the same place by their income or circumstances. How the government proceeds with the reassessment and remedying its repercussions will be crucial for Buffalonians across the city. 

Originally published in the Silent Noise in October 2019.

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