Residents throughout Graduate Hospital have expressed concern about the lack of fairness and accuracy in property value reassessments under AVI, regardless of how long they have resided in the neighborhood.
“I was born and raised here,” said Shirley Peterson. She attended the Thomas Durham School at 16th and Lombard streets, which is now Independence Charter, and Chester A. Arthur School at 20th and Catherine streets.
Peterson purchased her home on Saint Albans for $6,300 in 1971. Its listed market value for 2014 is $292,600. Despite the fact that she hasn’t made any improvements to her home, the improvement on the land is valued at $267,175.
“Who can afford it?” asked Peterson. “I’m retired. I only get one check a month.”
The Office of Property Assessment’s inaccuracies do not stop with AVI. According to the OPA website, Thurman Scott’s home was purchased for $1 in March 2012.
“I purchased the house in 1985,” said Scott. “I paid $32,000.”
Scott’s neighbor’s property, which has been a three-story since about 2007, is described as a two-story property, according to OPA’s website. His neighbor’s property was also valued the same as his two-story home.
Some residents said they believe the city is simply raising taxes.
“They’re trying to hide it with the adjustment of the value of the houses,” said Avi Lazar.
Lazar has lived in Graduate Hospital since 2004. He moved to Saint Albans Street from the 2100 block of South Street in November.
“It would be nice that a $500,000 home was listed for $500,000 as opposed to $30,000. But they’re also increasing the taxes. It’s OK to go up by a little but it should be a reasonable amount. It shouldn’t be going up by 60-70 percent in a year. That’s a nice pay raise that nobody else is seeing.”
Kristen Albee is a volunteer and resident of the Graduate Hospital neighborhood.
“The neighborhood is getting better. The city sees that. They see they can make money now on all of these properties.”
Kristen Albee and Francis Rainey live on the 2100 block of Saint Albans. They purchased their home for $310,000 in 2009. Their property taxes were under $900.
“That was very affordable for us, especially with the wage tax. We both work in Center City. It’s about 4 percent wage tax that you’re paying. Having lower real estate taxes, it was kind of a good compromise,” said Albee.
Their property’s reassessed market value for 2014 is $335,800. With the proposed 1.3 percent tax rate, Albee and Rainey’s taxes will increase 343 percent to $3,975.
“Our neighbor’s house is $231,000. But [it’s] a similar type of home,” Albee said.
Rainey added, “They definitely didn’t reach their goal in what they were trying to accomplish here.”
The value of property, whether undervalued or overvalued, has many residents concerned.
“The properties that have been renovated, it seems they don’t pay enough taxes,” said Harold Thompson. “I don’t know how they get the assessments.”
Many refurbished properties are receiving tax abatements. Owners of tax-abated properties only pay taxes on the land value, which has decreased in proportion to the overall value.
Thompson inherited his Saint Albans Street property in 1988. His taxes are just under $1,000. The property’s proposed market value for 2014 is $341,000. He was approved for the homestead exemption, but at the proposed 1.3 percent tax rate, his taxes for 2014 will still increase 327 percent to $4,043, using the full $30,000 homestead exemption.
“I’m a senior citizen. I can’t afford to pay $4,000 in taxes.”
Many residents on fixed incomes are feeling the squeeze. And they are not alone.
“They’re going to push out a lot of young families,” said Kate Avitabile.
Avitabile purchased her home on Saint Albans Street for $314,900 in 2010. Since it was assessed at $30,300, she’s paying $947.40 in taxes. Her property’s reassessed market value for 2014 is $232,200. Her property taxes will increase 219 percent to $3,019 at the proposed 1.3 percent tax rate.
Residents are weighing the pros and cons of Graduate Hospital. Schools are struggling and, while it is a safer neighborhood, crime is still prevalent.
“There are still a lot of quality-of-life issues that we deal with,” said Albee.
Will residents leave the neighborhood because of increased taxes?
“There are other options,” said Avitabile. “We came from New York. We thought this was incredibly affordable. But, at the same time, we could go to the suburbs. I’m still finishing up my training in medicine so I’m here through June 2014. But after that point, we’ll have to see.”
Longtime residents are doing everything they can to reduce the negative impact of AVI so they are not forced to leave.
Shirley Peterson has applied and was approved for the homestead exemption. She also filed for the senior tax freeze program and sent her first-level review request to the Office of Property Assessment.
“I’m going to stay as long as I can.”