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Crotona’s Mary Mitchell Center faces tax lien battle

The unfinished extension for the Mary Mitchell Center sits vacant at 2107 Mapes Avenue.
Bronx Times
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A small not-for-profit in Crotona is struggling with the tax collector.

The Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017, has found itself in the midst of an uphill battle against mounting tax liens a year later, after being denied a real estate tax exemption on a property they own.

“We are really trying to resolve this situation. We’re not a dead beat organizati­on,” said executive director of the center, Heidi Hynes.

Originally not-for-profits, charities, and other social service organizations were granted automatic exemptions from paying state real estate taxes.

In 2012, New York City added a requirement that all these organizations have to renew their tax-exempt status annually or be subject to paying the property tax.

The Mary Mitchell Center’s tax exemption renewal application failed to meet all the city’s requirements and therefore was denied because one of its properties was not fully utilized in the ten years since it was purchased.

“We’re not trying to do anything big, just expanding our space to do more grassroots programs in our community,” said Hynes.

The 4-story property, located at 2107 Mapes Avenue, was purchased with funding from Congressman Jose Serrano in 2007 to expand its current programming.

In 2008, when the economy took a downturn, there was no more funding available to complete the vision they initially had for the property and renovations were halted.

To avoid tax foreclosure, the center has used almost $3,000, intended for their community, youth, and family-focused programming, to pay a portion of the outstanding property taxes.

Meanwhile the center is appealing the city tax commission’s decision,

“It’s not like we have a pile of money for when the city decides we have to pay taxes all of a sudden,” explained Hynes.

The taxes they have paid are considered ‘illegally issued’, according to their legal advisor Paula Segal, a senior staff attorney in the Equitable Neighborhoods practice at the Community Development Project.

Segal helped connect the center to their current legal team, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer Law firm.

The Mary Mitchell Center’s 2017 Mapes Avenue property still face the threat of a tax lien sale.

The center is not the only not-for-profit affected by the 2012 rule change.

Many not-for-profits have been denied exemptions, while others claim they were never notified to renew their status annually.

“If the city just wants to make sure all its properties are well cared for, they can do that without making us go through this amount of hardship,” continued Hynes.

As of April 2018, there were more than 200 properties owned by not-for-profits and other charitable entities, still on the tax lien list, including the Mary Mitchell Center’s 2017 Mapes Avenue property.

The City Council plans to introduce a bill addressing not-for-profit properties facing a tax lien sale at its next session. The legislation is called #ProtectOurPlaces Bill Intro 0245-2018.

The bill woud remove all non profits from the tax lien sale rolls.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at svalenzuela@cnglocal.com.
Updated 5:15 pm, July 9, 2018
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