Over the course of a semester, three students enrolled in the CLP-affiliated course Community-Based Research at City College of New York (CCNY) helped save dozens of non-profits and religious groups from improper tax collection. The students—Edward Garcia, Lindsey Johnson, and Felix Kuadugah—partnered with the community-based organization 596 acres to investigate the impact of tax collectors on non-profit organizations as part of the fieldwork component of their class.
Though non-profit organization are supposed to be exempt from property taxes and water and sewer fees, the Department of Finance requires organizations to recertify every year—a requirement that only came about in 2012. Many non-profit organizations, unaware of this change, find themselves with liens against their properties.
As the students point out in an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, the Department of Finance has done a poor job educating non-profit and religious organization about the policy change, putting them at unfair risk. Groups are notified by mail, but the correspondence often doesn’t reach it’s indented recipients thanks to a change in address or leadership. “Unsurprisingly,” the students write, “these groups are located disproportionately in majority black and Latino communities.”
Over the course of a semester, the City College students worked with 596 acres to help remove 108 non-profits from this summer’s lien list. 235 nonprofits, synagogues, churches and mosques remain on the list, however, all for taxes that should not have been charged in the first place.
The students reflected on their experience in the research class, writing in part:
“Community-based research is mostly a class about methods, but we learn something in the process about how government works, or doesn’t. What does the sale of nonprofit tax liens tell us?
Read the entire op-ed here.