I've owned a home in Philadelphia for less than a year, and the city just tripled my property taxes.
My husband, Joe, and I were both born and raised in Northeast Philly. We lived in Washington for 10 years after college. Last summer, we decided it was time to return home to the city where nearly everyone we love lives - the same city that was named the No. 1 destination in the United States by Lonely Planet and deemed "ready to show itself off to the world" by the New York Times.
In November, we made the commitment to purchase a home in Philadelphia and invested every dime of our savings into it. We bought this home because it has a tax abatement that results in a monthly payment that we can afford. Without the tax abatement, we would likely not be living in Philadelphia.
Recently, we learned that Philadelphia's Office of Property Assessment has instituted an extreme property-tax assessment increase for residents with tax-abated homes.
After living in our home for nine short months, with no changes made to our land or property, the city has arbitrarily increased the value of our land by $85,900. Our "abated" taxes will increase by $1,234, or 172 percent, in 2017.
According to the Inquirer, only 3.5 percent of residents will see their taxes increase by more than $400, and our increase is more than triple that. The most extreme increases happened in neighborhoods like Center City, Graduate Hospital, and Fishtown. Seems fishy.
More than fishy: This abrupt move is pure bait and switch. Philadelphia has found a way around the tax abatements it promised to thousands of homeowners. This move targets those deemed "wealthy" based on the location of our homes and treats us like an ATM.
I'm fully aware of the backlash against the tax-abatement program, but that doesn't change its existence. And contrary to the stereotype of homeowners with abatements, Joe and I are not rich people. He's the son of a Philadelphia police officer. We graduated from Northeast High. We each have $60,000 in student loans. We both work full time in addition to each doing side work to earn additional income.
We moved to Philadelphia to be part of this city. We committed to living in Philadelphia, not some suburb. We both work in Philadelphia. When we have children, we want to raise them here (something most young Philadelphia families aren't doing). And when our tax abatement ends, we'll be paying $6,000 a year in real estate taxes (a rate that makes the suburbs look good). We want to be part of Philadelphia for the long run.
Even if this reassessment - part of the Actual Value Initiative, or AVI - was an honest process (which seems unlikely), increases like this need to be slow in order for them to be incorporated into property owners' budgets. When AVI was enacted in 2013, Councilman Mark Squilla proposed a four-year phase-in so that homeowners could budget for the increase, but City Council didn't support his plan.
I encourage Council to revisit this issue. Honor Philadelphia's commitment to owners of tax-abated homes. You convinced me to move here. Now convince me to stay.