Northeast Times

Deadline is Friday to apply for Homestead Exemption

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. ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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