Group says AVI overprices low-cost homes

River Wards neigh­bor­hood groups are part of a cit­izens' co­ali­tion that has pro­duced a re­port claim­ing the city's AVI plan is flawed and needs more work.

A co­ali­tion of Phil­adelphia civic or­gan­iz­a­tions, in­clud­ing sev­er­al from the River Wards, has cri­ti­cized the re­cent city­wide AVI re­as­sess­ment, call­ing it flawed and say­ing it has un­der­val­ued the most ex­pens­ive prop­er­ties while it over­val­ued the least ex­pens­ive.

Dur­ing a news con­fer­ence May 22 in City Coun­cil’s caucus room, mem­bers of the Crosstown Co­ali­tion of Tax­pay­ers said they sup­port the concept be­hind the Ac­tu­al Value Ini­ti­at­ive, which, said co­ali­tion chair­man Steph­en Hunt­ing­ton, the cit­izens should ex­pect will trans­par­ently make the city’s prop­erty as­sess­ments fairer and more ac­cur­ate.

“None of those ex­pect­a­tions have been met,” he said, adding later AVI should be re­done. “AVI failed not by a whisker, but by a mile.”

EKNA, FNA, NLNA and ORCA are mem­bers of the Crosstown Co­ali­tion.

It’s clear the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment has more work to do, said Wal­ter Spen­cer, who ana­lyzed the data and pre­pared the co­ali­tion’s re­port.

What’s flawed, said Mark Mc­Don­ald, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter’s spokes­man, is draw­ing such con­clu­sions from data that is in­com­plete and not de­signed for the ana­lys­is the co­ali­tion at­temp­ted.

The data the tax­pay­ers’ group used is the same used by eco­nom­ist Robert Strauss, who Mc­Don­ald said re­cently pre­pared a sim­il­arly flawed re­port for City Con­trol­ler Alan Butkovitz.

Rich­ie McK­eithen, the city’s chief as­sessor, said the data the co­ali­tion and Strauss used is in­form­a­tion the Of­fice of Prop­erty As­sess­ment dis­trib­uted to the pub­lic for in­form­a­tion­al pur­poses.

“It’s gen­er­al in­form­a­tion,” McK­eithen said in a May 23 phone in­ter­view. “Who owns what, where it is loc­ated, its value.”

Any­one who wants to do an ac­cur­ate ana­lys­is of as­sess­ments, McK­eithen said, should go to the as­sessor and see how that is done.

Hunt­ing­don com­plained that it is dif­fi­cult to get in­form­a­tion from OPA.

Both Mc­Don­ald and McK­eithen said AVI is open and trans­par­ent.

Hunt­ing­don ad­ded that the co­ali­tion wants to meet with OPA of­fi­cials.

“We would love to sit across the table with OPA and com­pare data,” he said.

McK­eithen said May 23 that he is try­ing to make ar­range­ments to sit down with co­ali­tion mem­bers. Spen­cer said he would wel­come such a meet­ing.

Some of the main points of the co­ali­tion’s re­port are:

—The range of as­sess­ment er­rors is sev­er­al times high­er than the 13.9 per­cent the city says it is.

—Homes priced above $1 mil­lion are as­sessed be­low their mar­ket val­ues.

—Homes with sale prices un­der $50,600 are as­sessed at more than twice their mar­ket val­ues. “The less well-to-do are be­ing asked to pay more.”

—The two dozen largest of­fice build­ings in the city are as­sessed at 70 to 85 per­cent of their mar­ket val­ues.

“I think it should be thrown out. Start over and do it the right way,” Coun­cil­man Kenyatta John­son (D-2nd dist.) said at the May 22 news con­fer­ence.

The next day, McK­eithen called AVI a “qual­ity re­as­sess­ment.”

“We have re­placed an old sys­tem with something that is much bet­ter,” he said.

Is there some work still to do? Yes, he and Mc­Don­ald said. Sub­sequent as­sess­ments will build on pre­vi­ously as­sembled data and get bet­ter.

Part of the pro­cess will be de­vel­op­ing the pub­lic’s un­der­stand­ing of AVI, McK­eithen said. That might take two or three years.

Coun­cil­man Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.), who prefers phas­ing in AVI over a few years, praised the co­ali­tion and its work.

“This was done by res­id­ents,” he said. “It has cred­ib­il­ity.”

McK­eithen said that even with more com­plete data, the co­ali­tion couldn’t du­plic­ate OPA’s pro­fes­sion­al as­sess­ment.

“But I ap­plaud the people for try­ing,” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or at

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