Seven years ago Deonarine Persaud and his wife paid off the mortgage on the single-family house in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, that they’d acquired in 1989 for $120,000. Shortly after, however, their health started to fail. Persaud had a heart attack, and his wife had to retire early from her job as a nurse because she had problems with her vision and needed regular dialysis treatments. Faced with elevated medical costs, the Persauds fell behind on their property taxes and water bills by about $5,000.
That turn of events nearly cost them their home. Three years ago, the city sold the Persauds’ tax bills to a debt collector funded by Wall Street investment firms. Last year, the collector moved to foreclose on the house, which the couple reckons is now worth $700,000. Fortunately, the Persauds were able to hire a lawyer to help stave off foreclosure, and the family began to pay down the bills. Still, after interest charges and legal fees, their tax bill had swollen to more than $9,000. Persaud hopes to pay off the last of his debts by May.
“This has been a real nightmare,” he said. “I hope what’s happened to us isn’t happening to anyone else.”
Help may be on the way. On Wednesday, the City Council approved legislation that would offer people like the Persauds more flexible payment plans for their delinquent tax bills and access to financial counseling. Those items were included in a bill that extends the city’s program of selling overdue tax bills by four years.
“The program must be transparent, fair and flexible,” said Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chairman of the City Council’s finance committee and sponsor of the reform package.