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Cleveland residents demand change in city tax abatement guidelines

Posted at 9:33 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 11:21:55-05

CLEVELAND — Concerned Cleveland homeowners attended a final listening session hosted by the City of Cleveland as the city collects input on possible tax abatement reform.

The final stop on the city listening tour, held at Cleveland's Pilgrim Church, had homeowners from the Ohio City, Tremont and Lincoln Heights neighborhoods expressing their concerns over skyrocketing property taxes.

Residents told consultants hired by the city they're worried more and more homeowners will be forced out of their long time owner occupied homes due to property tax hikes fueled by a massive amount of tax abated new housing development.

Homeowners like Carol Prusak and Fay Harris said Cleveland's 100 percent tax abatement for up to 15 years needs to be rolled back as soon as possible or dozens of additional long time homeowners will no longer be able to afford to stay in their homes.

“We don’t need anymore development, we have enough development,” Prusak said. “Protect us, I might be losing my home, I don’t know. There’s no way that people’s properties should be assessed at 50 percent, 100 percent, 200 percent and 300 percent higher. That’s unnatural. That has to be reformed, I mean just the way the county appraises properties is very mishmash. It’s very poor.”

Henry Senyak, with the Lincoln Heights Block Club, said all the tax abated development is artificially driving up property taxes for hundreds of long time residents living in key Cleveland neighborhoods.

Senyak said Cleveland must adopt a Long Time Owner Occupant Program or "loop legislation," effective in cities like Philadelphia.

The program gives long time homeowners a limit on how high their tax increase can be year-to-year, if they meet certain lower income requirements.

Senyak bristled after consultants at the meeting told him loop legislation must be enacted at the state level. Senyak disagreed.

"This isn’t a state issue, this is a city issue. It’s legislation that the city could do and let’s see it happen, no more excuses," Senyak said. “We want to be informed, we want them to listen to us. We’re the taxpayers, we’re the ones that have our property taxes increased by 200 to 300 percent."

Cleveland Councilman Kerry McCormack said he agrees loop legislation is needed and pledged to fight for passage of a similar law.

“Loop legislation to me is one of the most important things to do in the city of Cleveland," McCormack said. “We’ve got to work with the county and the state to ensure that our long term owner occupied seniors are able to enjoy the neighborhood that they’ve loved for four decades. We want to hear from the folks that live in our neighborhoods, we can’t just make everything up at city hall.”

Former U.S. Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar said she's upset the hearing process to come up with tax abatement reform is taking so long.

Oakar said long time homeowners in the Tremont, Ohio City, Scranton Road and Lincoln Heights neighborhoods need property tax relief as soon as possible.

Oakar is calling for the immediate suspension of all tax abatement until a new tax abatement plan can be found.

“Who gets the tax money saved? The developer. Who gets dough for the tax credits? The developer. Who gets the HUD money? The developer,” Oakar said. "What I want them to do is no more tax abatement until they're finished, because I think this whole thing of dragging it on until March is very irresponsible.”

City consultants are set to come up with a draft analysis in January 2020, with two larger community meetings on tax abatement reform scheduled for February 2020.

The consulting team is expected to present its full final report to Cleveland City Council this coming March.