‘The Untouchables': How Columbia and N.Y.U. Benefit From Huge Tax Breaks

As New York City's budget tightens, its wealthiest universities are bigger and richer than ever. Now, some officials think it's time for the schools to pay more in taxes.

‘The Untouchables': How Columbia and N.Y.U. Benefit From Huge Tax Breaks

Columbia University, as it finishes its new campus in Harlem and puts the finishing touches on the building, has achieved a major milestone: It is now the largest landowner in New York City.

The school owns 320 properties worth nearly $4 billion in a city with the highest land value in the country. Its growth has allowed it to remain competitive in the Ivy League, and achieve its goals.

Ambitions broader

To become a global organization.

These ambitions, in many ways, have helped to lift the city and attract tourists.

Students are enrolled in greater numbers

New York will be able to create new jobs, and its reputation as a global center of knowledge will grow.

As Columbia expanded, the city's budget was also strained by a state statute that is more than 200-years-old and allows museums, universities, and other nonprofits almost no property tax.

The New York Times has conducted an analysis that shows Columbia saves more than $182,000,000 annually. The amount is up from just $38 million 15 years ago, as the university bought more properties and increased their value.

Columbia's savings on property taxes, which represent a small fraction of the $14.3 billion in endowment that Columbia has, are far greater than any tax breaks given to other high-profile developments, such as Hudson Yards. These tax breaks are 50% larger than those granted at Yankee Stadium, and more than Citi Field and Madison Square Garden combined.

Despite the fact that Columbia is absorbing more land, there are fewer New York City students. Since 2010, the number city students in Columbia's undergraduate ranks is down by 37 percent.

Most states exempt nonprofits from paying property taxes, and this includes universities. They are not required to pay tax on academic buildings or dormitories. Columbia University, among others, pays tax on property that is not used to educate students.

They are not always a contentious issue, but the other seven Ivy League schools pay property taxes or pay millions to their local governments every year.

New York University and Columbia, two of the wealthiest universities in the country, are not included. N.Y.U.'s sprawling campus, located in Greenwich Village had a property tax saving of $145,000,000 this year.

Harvey Robins who worked under Mayors Edward I. Koch, David N. Dinkins, and Edward I. Koch, and who has closely followed the issue regarding tax exemptions for Universities, said: 'I call these people the untouchables. I can't imagine anyone else who would be willing to tackle this issue.' It's important to have a discussion about who pays for what and who subsidises whom.

Samantha Slater from Columbia University, a spokeswoman for the university, cited $170 million as contributions that the university pledged in the community around its campuses, starting in 2009. She said the investments had been a'model' for other universities to make similar investments.

In a press release, she stated that 'the effect is the same - forming partnerships with local organizations and the city to invest in economic development in the community'. She didn't respond to questions regarding the savings on property taxes and whether the institution had considered paying annual payments to city.

New York may have had a tamer debate because it has other revenue sources, like Wall Street. Columbia has spent over $2 million in the last five year to retain the most prominent lobbying companies of New York. These firms meet with city officials and the mayor on various issues including real estate.

A growing number of officials from the city and state are now re-examining long-standing exemptions granted to private universities. More than 40% of the total city tax revenues come from property tax.

Columbia's contribution would probably be small in comparison to the other more than

The city of New York collects $31 billion

Every year. It is also a significant amount more than the costs that city leaders negotiated over in budget negotiations this past year. For example, programs serving inmates of the Rikers Island jail complex, which is currently experiencing problems, were cut and the budget allocated for free preschools for 3-year-olds reduced.

The city's reliance on federal pandemic funding to support public schools and other services is set to dry up in the next year.

Manage an influx migrants at the southern border with billions

Mayor Eric Adams asked all city agencies to reduce their budgets by 5% by November and said that the Police and Fire Departments will be among those who do so.

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Gale Brewer is a former Manhattan Borough President and a councilwoman. She said that the university had lobbied her in recent years, especially in relation to faculty housing. She was unsure why the city officials had not asked Columbia or N.Y.U. She said she was not sure why city officials haven't asked Columbia and N.Y.U.

She said, 'They are a very strong board and they speak to the Mayor. I think that it is something to be considered, especially in the coming years. The budget deficits are massive.


Columbia University was restricted to Upper Manhattan for nearly a hundred years.


P. Hall & Son/The New-York Historical Society via Getty Images

Tax breaks in the state for nonprofits go back to 1799. This was long before Columbia University and other institutions of higher education became massive enterprises with endowments worth billions of dollars. The first universities in the United States were mostly affiliated with religious denominations, and they were considered charitable enterprises.

Columbia University was founded in 1754. It moved to Morningside Heights in the early 20th Century, where it has remained for almost a century. It abandoned its plans to build a gym in Harlem, a project which was derided by many as "Gym Crow" after 1968.

enormous protests

In the early 2000s Columbia administrators led by the president of the university at that time, Lee C. Bollinger said the University could not remain competitive without an expanded campus.

To help Columbia expand,

New York State condemns land

In 2008, the University of West Harlem took over properties in Manhattanville in West Harlem. The university promised to be a good neighbour and hire local workers.

Bollinger stated that Columbia had at one time turned its back to the location of the city.

A 2006 interview with The Times

"I wanted to do the exact opposite."

Mr. Bollinger told neighborhood leaders and community leaders that the university has changed since 1968's upheaval.

Lee Bollinger, Columbia's president, when the university began to expand, promised that the university would work closely together with the community.


Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The Bollinger plan was temporarily halted by a lawsuit because the judges ruled that it wasn't a "civic project". Nick Sprayregen, who owned self-storage facilities in West Harlem, fought Columbia to purchase his properties. In 2007, Mr. Sprayregen stated that this was a land grab at its most extreme. He died in 2016.

A higher court approved the project. Columbia relocated several dozen residents into a 12-story condo building and gave them a new home.

Each one costs $7,000


The university, as it expanded, said it spent $600 million on local firms -- many of which were owned by women and minorities -- for construction, maintenance, and repairs of its campuses. This represents approximately 16 percent the total amount it spent in that period.

The university also gave away about $104 millions of the $170,000,000 it had pledged to the local community -- to organizations in the area, a fund for affordable housing and to city agencies such as the Parks Department. The university said that since 2009, it has spent over $100 million on upgrades to local infrastructure. It will soon replace two escalators in a subway station at 125th street.

Columbia continues to prioritise engagement with its local community - from Morningside Heights, Harlem, Washington Heights, and beyond', Ms. Slater said, Columbia's spokeswoman. We focus on investments that create local jobs, economic opportunities and sustainable community partnerships.

Maritta DUNN, former chairwoman Community Board 9 and resident of the area across the street, has praised the campus. She said, 'It provides the local community with a nearby beautiful park, complete with benches, trees and tables.'

Some residents have said that the university has hired fewer local residents than promised, neglected local companies to do much of the work, and is not as welcoming as they had promised.

Walter J. Edwards of the Harlem Business Alliance, whose Full Spectrum company helped renovate an old 1920s building at the new campus, said, "It did not happen as I expected." If you're displacing people, please give them something.

Altagracia Hiraldo runs the Dominican Community Center. She said that she hoped to see more. This included the opportunity for nonprofits in her neighborhood, like herself, to work on campus.

"They forgot about us," said Ms. Hiraldo.

Columbia's properties in West Harlem are now worth $644 million, more than doubling the value of the area since the expansion. Jerome L. Greene, a massive glass-and-steel structure, is the centerpiece of the campus. There are also other buildings under construction including a residential tower with 34 stories for graduate students and professors.

The Times reported that because Columbia has taken over properties for which it had paid property taxes, the city collects only half of the property tax that was collected in 2008.

Jerome Furman is a counselor for East Side Community School. He has helped students get accepted into every Ivy League school except Columbia.


Amir Hamja/The New York Times

Local public schools have questioned Columbia’s commitment to the surrounding community. In 2010, 2 236 Columbia undergraduates were from New York City. By 2022, this number would have dropped to 1,416 or 15 percent.

Many administrators from local public schools have said that the University, which has supported


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The school has shown little interest in recruiting students from the local area, particularly children who come from families with low income.

The school's student body is made up of 7 percent Black students and 15 percent Latino students. 22 percent receive Pell grants that are meant for low-income students. The racial composition is similar to that of other Ivy League schools; however, a larger percentage of Pell-eligible student attends Columbia than some of its peers. Columbia declined to provide demographic data on its New York City-based students.

Jerome Furman is a counselor for East Side Community School, located in Manhattan's East Village, where two-thirds are low-income students. In his seven years as a teacher, Furman has seen students accepted into every Ivy League school except Columbia.

He claims that his emails and calls about college fairs, or students who are interested in applying for admissions, go unanswered.

Mr. Furman stated that the relationship was nonexistent.

Columbia did not disclose how many New York City Public School students were enrolled. However, they said the number of students had increased over the last five years. Last year, students from 45 public high schools in New York City attended Columbia.

Fred Raphael is the college and career advisor at Boerum Hill School for International Studies, a Brooklyn school where most students are Black or Latino. He said that Columbia acceptances had become so rare, that it was no longer a realistic choice, even for those students who were performing well.

He said that if New York was such an asset, it would make sense to ensure that New York students were represented in a meaningful capacity within the student body.

The other urban Ivy League schools declined to share their enrollments with their home cities except for Brown University in Providence, R.I. According to a Brown University spokesman, on average, between 20 and thirty undergraduates from Providence's public schools enroll in a given school year - slightly more than in comparable sized cities outside Rhode Island.

New Yorkers are more prevalent in other major universities. Fordham University, located in the Bronx has a stable 23 percent of its undergraduates from New York City. About 17 percent of N.Y.U. undergraduates are New York City-based.

N.Y.U. Like Columbia, N.Y.U. Since the 1980s, it has expanded and only recently started to expand its infrastructure.

Campus, for the majority of the land they already owned. This included a 23-story academic building made out of glass and steel in the Village, which cost $1.2 billion. After community backlash

The expansion has been reduced

The university will not pay any property taxes.

Andrew Berman is the executive director for the non-profit advocacy group Village Preservation.

A N.Y.U. A spokesman for the N.Y.U. pointed out the contributions that the university makes in the city. This includes its students who help teach in public schools and its Higher Educational Opportunity Program which offers college access to low-income New Yorkers. The university also pointed out that most of its graduates work in New York and that thousands of its employees pay more than $100 million in payroll tax.

We recognize the budgetary challenges that the city is facing. We feel that the charitable status of N.Y.U. The educational mission of N.Y.U. -- and its tax policy