Realtors Meet with State Legislators

 

Lance Evans

Last month I wrote about our meetings with our United States senators and congresswoman in mid-May. Several days after returning, a number of area Realtors and other interested parties went to Albany to meet with our state representatives on May 23 about several state-specific issues of interest to area homeowners. This was part of the New York State Association of Realtors’ annual Lobby Day. Over 250 Realtors from around the state participated.

    The Tri-County area was represented by Linda and Pat Fields (Linda J. Fields Broker and Professional Institute for Real Estate Training), Lisa L’Huillier (Hefferon Real Estate), Karen Peebles (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CNY Realty), Chuck Ruggiero (Hefferon Real Estate), Cheryl Schroy (Key Bank), Vickie Staie (Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services and Appraisals USA), and Jennifer Stevenson (Blue Heron Realty) along with me. During the day, we met with Senators Joe Griffo (47th District), Betty Little (45th District) and Patty Ritchie (48th District). In addition, we had meetings with members of the Assembly Will Barclay (120th District), Ken Blankenbush (117th District), Marc Butler (118th District) and Addie Jenne (116th District). We informed them about the current housing market and our stances on several issues.

    We began by talking about the NY First Home Program. This is a first-time home buyer savings account program introduced by Senator Little and Assemblyman Phil Ramos (6th District). If passed into law, it would create a new tax-free savings account modeled after the State’s 529 College Savings Program. NY First Home would help New Yorkers achieve the dream of homeownership by creating a dedicated savings account to be used exclusively to cover costs associated with the purchase of a first home in New York state, whether that is a single family residence, condo, cooperative apartment or townhome.

    Using this program, New Yorkers could cover costs associated with the purchase of a first home using this dedicated savings account to deposit up to $5,000 ($10,000 for couples) of after-tax dollars annually, receive a state income tax deduction on the principal investment and grow savings tax-free, and then apply the savings and interest towards the purchase of a first home in New York state.

    The largest inhibitors for hopeful first-time home buyers in New York state are the initial up-front closing costs and high down-payment requirements. Enactment of NY First Home would provide New Yorkers with a practical savings mechanism to make buying a first home more affordable in New York state. This incentive would also have a positive effect on retaining young people in the state and provide a boost to local and state economies.

    A Sienna Research Institute poll in December 2016 found that 84 percent of New Yorkers supported NY First Home and 80 percent agreed that the governor and Legislature should make assisting New Yorkers in saving for a first home a priority.

    This bill passed the Senate during the 2016 session and is working its way through both houses in 2017.

    Our second issue concerned reinstating the STAR Exemption Program and sunset the School Tax Relief credit program that was written into law last year. Although both called “STAR,” the two programs work differently. The previous version provided immediate or “upfront” reductions in school taxes for homeowners.

    The change in 2016 to the STAR credit program led to confusion with new home buyers unsure of whether or not they would see the upfront savings as an exemption or be mailed a check under the credit program. In the worst instances, many homeowners received STAR credit checks later than when their school taxes were due, making it difficult to pay the full school tax bill. It is also still unclear from the Department of Tax and Finance whether or not future STAR credit checks will be taxed as income. This legislation would return the STAR program to a predictable upfront tax benefit to New York’s homeowners.

    The legislation has passed the Assembly and is working its way through the Senate.

    Realtors will continue to watch these issues and advocate for current and future New York property owners with our federal, state, and local officials.

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.