These tax relief bills must pass amid Philly property reassessments

A closeup of detailing on Philly row houses

Shown are rowhouses in Philadelphia, Friday, April 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia City Council is currently weighing legislation that would provide vital protections to the homeowners hardest hit by the dramatic increase in property tax assessments in the fiscal year 2023. Philadelphia homeowners will see their property tax assessments rise by an average of 31%, although in some areas of the city, assessments will see a more dramatic rise — sometimes doubling or even tripling.

Without immediate relief measures, we know that our clients — especially Black and brown homeowners with low income who live in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods — will be unable to afford the increase and will soon find themselves at risk of losing their homes.

City Council is considering different relief measures and various ways to redistribute increased revenues from the new assessments. Reductions in the city wage tax and reforms to business taxes will not help the Philadelphians hardest hit by increased property taxes. That includes workers with low wages and older adults, most of whom have fixed or stagnated income and already face increased costs for basic necessities. It is essential that longtime city residents with low income do not bear the burden of these tax increases.

We are also mindful of the impact of homeowner protections on the school district and strongly support equitable funding. But homeowners with low income should not lose their homes to fund our schools. The children of these homeowners risk learning loss and education access if they are forced to relocate to different schools because their families cannot afford higher taxes.

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In the long term, increases in property values present an opportunity to both fund our schools and preserve longtime family homes. Families with low income need access to real tax relief options now. Expanding existing tax relief programs is the best way, under the constraints of state law, to protect such homeowners from tax increases that they cannot afford.

The bills outlined will work together to provide a more comprehensive network of programs to preserve family homes and prevent displacement.

Raise the Homestead Exemption to $90,000

Bill 220455 would increase the value of the Homestead Exemption to $90,000. This will help all homeowners facing increased assessments, and it will be most beneficial to owners of modestly-valued homes, who are less likely to be able to afford a substantial increase in their tax bills.

Expand eligibility for LOOP

Bill 220497 would expand the Longtime Owner Occupants Program to help longtime homeowners in neighborhoods most affected by rapid development. LOOP is currently the city’s strongest gentrification relief program.

But many of our clients are not eligible for LOOP because the eligibility criteria are too narrow and do not accurately reflect the way gentrification affects property values, which is gradually over a period of years — not all at once — as is currently required to access the program.

This legislation extends eligibility to these homeowners and makes the program more accessible to those previously excluded. These changes will protect longtime homeowners next year and into the future as values continue to rise.

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Allow retroactive applications for Senior Freeze

Finally, Bill 220499 would allow seniors to access the Senior Freeze program even if they missed the deadline to apply when first eligible. The Senior Freeze is essential to preventing the displacement of our most vulnerable homeowners.

Rather than expand eligibility, this legislation simply permits seniors to enroll in a program they were eligible for in past years but had not been able to access because they did not know about the program or missed the deadline to apply.

In a city that values diversity, fairness, and equity, no one should lose their home because their income is outpaced by development and they can’t afford their taxes.

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Jonathan Sgro, Kate Dugan, and Monty Wilson are attorneys in the Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. 

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