The Lead

Philly’s reassessment hurting African Americans, seniors on fixed incomes

By: - May 28, 2022 6:30 am
In Penntown, a mostly Black neighborhood in North Philadelphia, newer million-dollars townhomes have raised the value of homes across the street, in some cases doubling their tax bills (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

In Penntown, a mostly Black neighborhood in North Philadelphia, newer million-dollars townhomes have raised the value of homes across the street, in some cases doubling their tax bills (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — Rosalee Cooper, president of the Ridge Allegheny Hunting Park Association, says many of her neighbors are worried and confused about the city’s reassessment of their homes. When she checked on the city’s website, the value of her home was $127,000, about double from last year, when it was $64,000.

“That means my tax bill will double,” Cooper said. “A lot of them are complaining that with the taxes going up that they are not going to have money to fix up their houses because they have to pay whatever the taxes come to be and we know that they are going up high. We have a lot of seniors on fixed incomes. They are barely making it. Some have to choose between their medicine and their taxes.”

According to Cooper, most of her neighbors have seen similar increases and some who can’t qualify for home equity loans are turning to reverse mortgages, which often result in a family losing the home if their heirs can’t pay the interest that accrues until the borrower dies or leaves the home. The community group has held a half-dozen meetings with city officials to discuss the reassessments.

They are not alone.

Earlier this month, Mayor Jim Kenney said the average residential property value in the city increased by 31 percent, in the first citywide reassessment in three years. The tax bills are due March 31, 2023.

According to a review by the office of City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, the largest percent increases are concentrated in neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and South Philadelphia.

Those communities have large concentrations of Black, brown and fixed-income residents.

In addition, the controller’s review noticed inconsistencies in valuations. For example, 4,200 properties, including 3,300 residential properties, had valuations of $0. The controller’s office put out an interactive map that details the increases in every section of the city.

“When we looked at property assessments in 2019, we found that our poorest neighborhoods had the worst assessments — our most vulnerable residents were paying more than their fair share of property taxes, compared to wealthier neighborhoods,” Rhynhart said. “At this point, the Office of Property Assessment has not released its methodology or data to show these earlier issues were addressed.”

According to Rhynhart, while it is possible that there are large increases in assessed values for tax year 2023, it is unlikely that the market changes over the last three years alone account for the doubling of assessed values in certain parts of the city.

“Couple that with the opaque process and inconsistencies in land valuation and one thing is clear: the reassessment process needs to be better,” Rhynhart said.

Kevin Lassard, a spokesperson for Kenney, said the city’s rapid growth has made reassessment difficult, but the city has programs designed to give residents relief.

“We recognize that accurately capturing the city’s extraordinary property value growth — which reflects well on Philadelphia being a place of choice — may at the same time present financial hardships for many Philadelphians, which is exactly why the administration has proposed relief measures that return to taxpayers every city general fund dollar the new assessments are projected to generate,” he said. “Those measures include increasing the homestead exemption by more than 40%, increasing the amount dedicated to LOOP by 20%, reducing the wage tax to its lowest rate in over 40 years, increasing outreach funding to sign people up for already extensive relief measures, and working to ensure that more seniors enroll in the senior tax freeze.”

Residents will receive notices from the city about the new valuations by Sept. 1. Appeals must be filed with the board of revision of taxes by Oct. 3.

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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