One lazy day last summer, as my wife and I were sitting together in our backyard, we noticed a white van sneaking down our driveway. We were curious, at first, but not alarmed. When the van came back, however, and the driver craned her neck to look around our open gate and into our yard, I got up and approached her.
“Can I help you?”
“I’m from the City,” the driver said. “We’re doing assessments on all the city’s properties.”
“Our property is worthless,” I said jokingly as my wife looked on. “We don’t have any money. Please write that down on your clipboard.”
We all laughed, but I knew there would be no reprieve for us, or for the other homeowners who live in parts of the city where property values are rising.
Like many Philadelphians, I struggle to keep up with city taxes of all kinds, and the imminent rise in my property taxes through the Actual Value Initiative (AVI) will make it that much harder.
The Nutter administration says that AVI’s goal is to tag each city parcel with its actual market value while adjusting the tax rate to bring in the same $1.2 billion in revenue as last year.
And while I understand the need for the new assessments — the first the city’s done in years — I have mixed feelings. Some of them are quite personal.
On the one hand, I feel privileged to be a homeowner in the city of Philadelphia, the place where I was born, where I triumphed, where I failed and where I’ve ultimately chosen to raise my family.
After living on the streets of Philadelphia in my early twenties, and after buying a home of my own in my early thirties, I want to do whatever it takes to hold on to my own tiny parcel of the city I love.
Maybe it’s just my misguided desire to obtain the American dream, or the sense of masculine pride I derive from caring for a family, but I’m happy to have the opportunity to own a home, to pay a mortgage and to take care of every bill associated with having a place to call my own.
I’m grateful that my life’s path has enabled me to do so. I’m willing to pay because this property is mine.
When I look at our modest home, with its grassy backyard and manicured shrubs, I feel a great sense of pride.
Not because I want to forget the North Philly concrete that nurtured me in my teens, but because I want to remember it.
I want to remember every lesson I learned while watching my grandmother hold together the neighbors on the 2500 block of Oxford St.
I want to remember what it was like to play on a street where all the children knew each other.
I want to remember what it was like to love the place where I lived.
And I want other Philadelphians to know that feeling, as well.
Want to pay, but can’t
That’s why I have mixed feelings about the new property tax assessments. I know there are people like me all over the city; people who want to pay their fair share.
Not all of them can pay, however, despite that fact that they’ve lived in the same house not for one decade, but for four.
These are the people who’ve seen heartache, who’ve endured upheaval and change, who stayed when others left, and who deserve to benefit from Philadelphia’s new vitality.
When I think of the new property tax assessments, I think of people who have worked for years to maintain their own modest corner of this city; who’ve done all they could to hold onto a place to call their own.
I think of these people and I hope the city will realize how valuable they are.
I’d hate to see us lose them to higher taxes.