You probably won’t have much luck getting a substantial city real estate tax break after Friday. Because Friday — and, yes, it is Friday the 13th — is the deadline to apply for the Homestead Exemption.
The exemption takes $30,000 off a property’s assessment for tax purposes. Owners who live in their homes who get the exemption will pay taxes on the assessed values of their properties — minus $30,000.
If your house is worth $70,000, it will still be worth $70,000, you’ll just pay taxes on a house worth $40,000. If you have the exemption, you save almost $400 in taxes.
If this is all news to you, you’re not alone, but it really is time to act fast.
Call 215-686-9200 to apply for the exemption over the phone. Remember: You must be an owner who lives in your home to get the exemption, which will be applied for your 2014 real estate taxes. If you’re a renter or an owner who doesn’t live on the property, you’re not eligible.
City staffers and local officeholders have been getting out information about this tax break for months, and it’s been reported in this and other papers for months, too. City Council members from the Northeast have been taking every opportunity to talk up the exemption. They and their staffers have spoken at local public meetings. They’ve taken out ads. They’ve knocked on doors. Even Councilman Brian O’Neill (R-10th dist.), who didn’t support the exemption, is urging his constituents to apply for it.
On Monday, O’Neill said there are about 347,000 properties in the city that are eligible for the Homestead Exemption. As of Aug. 30, 207,397 homeowners have applied for the exemption, according to the OPA’s Kathryn Dreher.
“While having over 207,000 people signed up for a relatively brand-new government program in about a year is pretty good, we’re hoping that we see a spike in submitted applications over these next remaining days,” Dreher said in a Sept. 6 email to the Northeast Times.
Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th dist.) arranged for 30 volunteers to go door-to-door who reached more than 1,000 homes, said his spokesman Eric Horvath. Henon also organized an Election Day outreach in which committee people gave homestead applications to voters at polling places. The councilman also ran weeks of full- and half-page newspaper ads, mailed postcards to about 13,000 homeowners and posted content to Facebook and Twitter, Horvath said.
“Many residents have called and visited our district office to either confirm eligibility and/or to make sure their application has been received – so we are confident that the outreach efforts outlined above are working,” Horvath stated in a Sept. 5 email to the Northeast Times.
O’Neill said 41,000 homeowners in his district are eligible for the exemption. As of late June, 10,6000 had not filed.
He said the city provided Council members with funds to push the program. The councilman said he got very good responses to ads he ran in the Northeast Times. He’s also targeted thousands of constituents with mailings and robocalls.
“We’re getting a lot of people,” he said. But …
In talking up the exemption, he said, he’s sometimes been met with blank stares. Some people don’t know what the exemption is, or others don’t think they’re eligible, he said. Philadelphia’s state legislators also have been trying to get the word out.
Tim Savage, aide to state Rep. James Clay (D-179th dist.), said the lawmaker’s office had made Homestead Exemption robocalls to constituents.
But it’s still likely that many, many eligible homeowners won’t take advantage of a program that could save them hundreds of dollars.
It’s amazing that there are people who still don’t know about the exemption, said City Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez (D-7th dist.)
“I estimate that there will be thousands left out,” the councilwoman said in a Sept. 5 email to the Northeast Times.
She said her staffers along with 40 volunteers are trying to contact 19,000 owners in her district who have not completed their applications. The councilwoman said she also is collaborating with housing agencies to get the word out. She has bought time on Spanish-language TV to battle what could be a language barrier.
“Not sure what else we could have done to inform folks,” the councilwoman stated.
There’s another date to keep in mind: Oct. 7. That’s the deadline for property owners to appeal their new real estate assessments with the Board of Revision of Taxes. In the spring, the city sent out 100 percent market value assessments to Philadelphia property owners. Part of this Actual Value Initiative was to allow owners who didn’t like the new assessments to ask the Office of Property Assessment for a review. That’s a step that’s new this year, and OPA got almost 50,000 requests for reviews. The OPA is in the process of completing these reviews and should be finished by the end of this month. The reviews “are being processed at a steady pace, with some requiring additional research and, occasionally, an interior inspection,” said the OPA’s deputy chief assessment officer, Michael Piper.
More than 25,000 review decision notices have been mailed, Piper stated in a Sept. 6 email to the Northeast Times. The overwhelming majority of those notices, he said, are denials.
Anyone who doesn’t like what he or she hears from OPA can take the normal route, which is to appeal to the BRT. An owner who doesn’t expect good news from the OPA should start the appeal process now, before hearing from OPA.
“Our office has encouraged those who did not agree with their new property tax valuation to appeal, per the OPA process,” said Horvath, Henon’s spokesman. He said a few dozen residents have visited the councilman’s office for help in filing appeals.
Thousands could file appeals with the BRT, but, as of last week, not even 700 had, according to the board’s executive director, Carla Pagan.
And, yes, Pagan said, “That is low.”
Most of the appeals are expected to come in between Oct. 1 and 7, she said in a Sept. 5 email to the Northeast Times.
“The nature of appeal filing is ‘last minute,’ ” she said. ••