Council president talks AVI with Fishtown

City Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke re­cently stopped in Fishtown to ad­dress homeown­er's con­cerns about the city's Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive.

Phil­adelphia City Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke ad­dresses homeown­ers re­gard­ing AVI at the Fishtown Re­cre­ation Cen­ter last week. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Last week, City Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Dar­rell Clarke (D-5th dist.) held an in­form­a­tion ses­sion at the Fishtown Re­cre­ation Cen­ter about the city’s Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive. About 30 people at­ten­ded the meet­ing.

They gave him an ear­ful.

Flanked by staff, Clarke listened as neigh­bors ques­tioned the meth­od­o­logy of AVI, cri­ti­cized the lack of pro­sec­u­tion of tax-de­lin­quent prop­erty-own­ers, and com­plained that ul­ti­mately, many of them may be forced to pay more taxes be­cause prop­erty val­ues in Fishtown are soar­ing as the neigh­bor­hood be­comes in­creas­ingly at­tract­ive for own­ers and renters.

“I feel like I’m get­ting run out of the neigh­bor­hood,” said Hoode, the own­er of Black Vul­ture Gal­lery on East Gir­ard Av­en­ue.

Hoode, who goes by that name alone, said prop­erty taxes on his Frank­ford Av­en­ue home will in­crease from $800 a year to $5,000 un­der AVI, which he said he can’t af­ford. He said that many of his friends who also own and op­er­ate small busi­nesses in the neigh­bor­hood fear they will be forced to leave.

“We helped make this area what it is,” Hoode said.

The talk at the Fishtown Re­cre­ation Cen­ter was Clarke’s fourth stop on a series of vis­its to neigh­bor­hoods throughout his dis­trict, which in­cludes Brew­erytown, parts of North Philly, and Fishtown. 

The fi­nal in­form­a­tion ses­sions will be held to­night, Au­gust 14, at the Cecil B Moore Re­cre­ation Cen­ter, 2551 N. 22nd St., at 6 p.m.

“What sur­prised me was find­ing out that a lot of people have not filled out their homestead ex­emp­tion forms,” Clarke said.  “I think it’s very im­port­ant to take ad­vant­age of a $30,000 cred­it. A lot of the seni­ors are very con­fused about the pa­per­work, and I’m con­cerned about that.”

The Homestead Ex­emp­tion Act re­duces the tax­able value of a prop­erty by $30,000 if it is the own­er’s primary res­id­ence. So, a prop­erty re-as­sessed through AVI at a value of $100,000, would be treated as hav­ing a value of $70,000. 

But in neigh­bor­hoods like Fishtown, real es­tate val­ues have climbed so rap­idly in re­cent years that even the homestead ex­emp­tion might not help long-time res­id­ents.

One wo­man at the meet­ing said she is re­tired and lives on a fixed in­come, and can­not af­ford to pay any ad­di­tion­al tax. An­oth­er said she is a city em­ploy­ee, and also can­not af­ford to pay a high­er tax.

“There are com­munit­ies where a $30,000 homestead ex­emp­tion is not enough,” Clarke ac­know­ledged.

Clarke said the Gentri­fic­a­tion Pro­tec­tion Plan would help com­bat this prob­lem. City Coun­cil Bill 120340 of­fers pro­tec­tion to long-time own­er-oc­cu­pants (10 years or more; five years or more for those in gov­ern­ment-sub­sid­ized hous­ing) whose in­come is equal to or less than 150 per­cent of the Area Me­di­an In­come (which is es­tab­lished by the U.S. De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment). Re-as­sess­ments of the prop­er­ties of eli­gible homeown­ers will be capped at 300 per­cent of their ori­gin­al val­ues, mean­ing that their prop­er­ties can­not be re­as­sessed at more than three times their last as­sessed value.

This bill has been en­acted as law, but the of­fi­cial ap­plic­a­tion for homeown­ers to file for the Gentri­fic­a­tion Pro­tec­tion Plan is still pending.

Clarke also ac­know­ledged the in­con­sist­en­cies in the AVI re-as­sess­ments, which in some neigh­bor­hoods var­ied widely block by block.

“There are a lot of mis­takes, and we have to cor­rect it,” Clarke said. “That’s why I’m ur­ging people: if you don’t think it’s ac­cur­ate, you should ap­peal it.”

Clarke said that in the fu­ture, the city’s Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment would be re­quired to pub­licly post the AVI for­mula on­line, so that homeown­ers can un­der­stand how their re-as­sess­ments were cal­cu­lated. There is also a planned task force that will mon­it­or AVI and at­tempt to cor­rect the value as­sess­ments if mis­takes were made. In three years, the as­sess­ments of Phil­adelphia prop­er­ties should be 100 per­cent ac­cur­ate, Clarke said.

Oth­er pending le­gis­la­tion Clarke men­tioned at the meet­ing in­cluded a bill to al­low homeown­ers to pay their taxes in in­stall­ments, and the “en­hanced tax li­en pro­gram,” which he said would strengthen city ef­forts to crack down on tax-de­lin­quent prop­erty own­ers.

“We’re go­ing after them – big time,” Clarke prom­ised.

However, some people in at­tend­ance left angry, call­ing the meet­ing “use­less.”

“It was just sur­face talk­ing,” said Wil­li­am Gid­dins, a Wyn­nefield homeown­er who said he came to Fishtown for the op­por­tun­ity to hear Coun­cil Pres­id­ent Clarke speak about AVI. 

“In areas where once it was just nat­ur­al liv­ing, now they’re be­com­ing fash­ion­able, and we have to pay the ex­penses and feel it in our taxes. It’s all due to people mov­ing back from the sub­urbs,” Gid­dins said.

Clarke urged res­id­ents who have con­cerns about AVI, or who know seni­or cit­izens or dis­abled people who may need a rep­res­ent­at­ive of his of­fice to vis­it them at their home for as­sist­ance with ap­ply­ing for Homestead Ex­emp­tion, to con­tact his of­fice at 215-686-3442. ••

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