Philly homeowners still struggling to pay their property taxes may have help in city coffers — but not for long

Thousands of low-income homeowners within city limits could get a $500 credit on their property tax bill if they qualify for a program that’s soon to expire.

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Rowhouses in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood

File photo: Rowhouses in Philadelphia’s Spring Garden neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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A temporary property tax relief program created last year to help thousands of low-income homeowners across Philadelphia won’t extend its deadline for applications any further than Jan. 31 at 5 p.m., city leaders told WHYY News.

The Philadelphia Real Estate Tax Credit program is not only new but also a one-time relief effort for low-income homeowners citywide.

Eligible city homeowners could receive a $500 credit to pay their real estate tax bills for 2022 and 2023.

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To qualify, homeowners must live in the property, be the legal owner and have property tax bills that went up at least 50% — if not more — in the last two years. Also, the average household income must be at or below 80% of the area median, which is $71,400 for a household of two people and $89,250 for a household of four people.

In August 2023, the city re-assessed property values — leaving some residents struggling to pay their higher property tax bills. In response, Philadelphia’s City Council allocated $2 million to support its most vulnerable residents.

The relief program was rolled out last November with an initial deadline of mid-December — the height of the holiday season — and the last few weeks of former Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration.

Now, fast-forward a few weeks into Cherelle Parker’s tenure as Mayor, the city and its technology company contractor noticed they have more money left for the tax credit, but time is running out.

U.S. Census data shows Philly’s homeownership rate is higher than most cities at 52% — compared to 47% in Baltimore City and 45% in the city of Chicago.

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“We want to maintain those numbers,” At-large city Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson said. “It also helps you create and maintain generational wealth for you and your family. It’s important to us that we help homeowners stay homeowners.”

There’s no bill in the city council to continue the program right now but it’s possible that it might come up again this summer during the budget negotiations.

“We are going to look at the success of this current program and see what the real need is in this area,” she said. “I’m sure with the new incoming administration and council we’re going to continue to have these conversations as we move forward. We must do more to ensure that homeownership is affordable in the city of Philadelphia.”

The application has been translated into 68 different languages. A call center has been set up to help with questions and a paper application is available for download.

Forward, a Seattle-based technology company is administering the program on the city’s behalf.

The city already has several similar programs, including the Homestead Exemption, Long Time Owner Occupant Program, and Low-Income Senior Real Estate Tax Freeze.

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