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Higher property assessments brings out crowd to Buffalo City Hall

There did not appear to be any support for City of Buffalo plans for a massive change in property assessments during a crowded public meeting Thursday night.

What's at issue is a new assessment roll mailed out to homeowners recently. City officials say around two-thirds of owners will not see increases.

The uproar circles around those who will see increases, with many speakers at the hearing saying they are seniors and in danger of losing their homes when they can't pay higher taxes. Activists say those seniors should get tax breaks.

Colden Ray from the Buffalo Property Tax Coalition said taxes will push many out of their homes.

Credit City of Buffalo

"I've seen over my 10 years that even moderate increases in taxes can cause long-term homeowners and their families to become displaced to municipal or bank foreclosures, causing the loss of generational wealth," Ray said. "Homeownership is one of the main ways that people build wealth to pass down."

Activist citizen groups are calling for an income-based system of exemptions and are also calling for higher taxes on rich people and rich developers, saying there are dozens of valuable pieces of property that pay no property tax and many others that pay little by using government exemptions. Those under the median income of around $68,000 a year won't pay more, while the rest will pay even more.

The Fruit Belt has been an indicator on claimed gentrification because of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Dennice Barr has long complained that long-time residents are forced out.

Credit City of Buffalo
The City of Buffalo says the increase in renovated homes also contributes to higher assessments.

"It is not right that in my neighborhood, my children cannot even afford to rent an apartment. They can't buy a house because of speculator prices and we have seen this going on all across the country," Barr said. "There is no reason for us, considering how poor this city is, considering how disadvantaged these neighborhoods have been, for us to put this on the backs of poor people and people of color."

Landlord Jesus Hernandez said his tenants are worried.

"I've got all these tenants in my properties that the most I get is $700 for three-bedroom apartments. They complain to me about the rents at that price. So they're all scared," Hernandez said. "They're all looking at me: 'What are you going to do? What are you going to do?' I'm like, 'I don't know. I'm going to try to talk, see if I can lower this down. I don't know what to tell you right now.'"

The city has a three-level process to fight higher assessments and potentially higher taxes, with informal hearings going on right now and formal applications to be filed in December, with hearings in January. A lot of hearings are expected.

More background from the City of Buffalo on the assessments is below:

Assessment Background Document by Anonymous iVoSPSV0s on Scribd

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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