The Lead

Philly Councilmember Johnson floats property tax relief plan

By: - May 31, 2022 10:15 am

Philadelphia Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D-2nd District, announced his Save Our Homes plan during last week’s City Council meeting to help citizens with the rising cost of property assessment taxes (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Brian Saunders

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, D- 2nd District announced his Save Our Homes plan during last week’s City Council meeting to help citizens with the rise in property assessment taxes.

Johnson’s seven-point plan has the support of 12 of his colleagues. Currently, only Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilmember Brian O’Neill, R-10th District, and At-large Councilmember Allan Domb have not signed on to the proposed bills.

“I am proud to announce the Save our Homes tax relief plan,” Johnson said. “It will stop this displacement by making property taxes fairer and more transparent. Moreover, this plan is revenue-neutral. It simply takes the expected revenue increase from the latest property assessments and gives the money back to where it belongs, which is to the people.”

Johnson’s plan will increase the homestead exemption from $45,000 to $90,000. If you own a home, you qualify, and currently, it saves homeowners $629. If approved, that number would double to $1,260.

Kate Dugan, an attorney with Community Legal Services, said that one of her clients Sabrina Reddy had just become a homeowner, and she had to call her to let her know that her property taxes were increasing.

“I had to call her and tell her taxes are going up 43% next year because, you know, not great news after the journey to becoming a homeowner,” Dugan said. “So an increase in the homestead exemption from $45,000 to $90,000 would help a lot of the impact of that increase away.”

The second part of the plan would extend the senior tax freeze program for qualified seniors 65 years or older.

“Low-income seniors will be able to freeze their assessments retroactively and to 2018 levels,” Johnson said.

Earlier this month, The Philadelphia Tribune reported that O’Neill introduced similar legislation.

To qualify, single applicants have to have an income of $33,500 or less, and married couples’ pay must be $41,500 or less.

Johnson also plans to change the Longtime Owner Occupant Program (LOOP). Under revisions, property value increases can’t exceed 150 percent. In addition, citizens must have lived in their homes for 10 years or more to be eligible.

Johnson’s plan will also allocate $12 million for the city’s rental assistance program for the 2023 budget, which would help with the perceived rent increases landlords would enact with increased property taxes.

There is also a $2.5 million budget item to campaign and make sure Philadelphians know the property tax reduction program exists.

“We need to let people know that their property taxes will increase,” Johnson said. “We need to let them know what they can do about it, from filling out assessment appeals, first levels of review, and other tax relief measures to help them address the property tax increases.”

Dugan said that Johnson and other elected officials must put money towards notifying the public because the Office of Property Assessment will not do that until later this year.

“That’s always important. Tax relief doesn’t help people who don’t know about it,” Dugan said. “These are programs that you have to sign up for. So you have to know to sign up for them. The Department of Revenue already does outreach, Community Legal Services, and a lot of other legal aid offices do outreach. Still, the more outreach we can do to ensure everybody knows what they qualify for, the more good.”

Save Our Homes plan will also allocate at least $2.5 million in the 2023 budget for free assistance for low-income homeowners and renters in property and eviction cases.

The plan is expected to cost over $90 million per year. It was referred to committee and has to be voted on and approved by June 23.

“Tax policy can be dry. It can be technical. But people’s homes are at stake. Their dignity is at stake. It is our job to step up and step in,” Johnson said.

Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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