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‘It’s wrong’: Philly property assessments double in some working-class neighborhoods

The property assessments are Philadelphia's first since 2019. The mayor and City Council are negotiating relief options for homeowners hit by increases.

Iris Rodríguez, left, and Antonio Bonaparte sit outside of Bonaparte’s home in the Norris Square neighborhood of North Philadelphia on Wednesday. Philadelphia released its first property reassessments in three years. Many homeowners are seeing a significant increase.
Iris Rodríguez, left, and Antonio Bonaparte sit outside of Bonaparte’s home in the Norris Square neighborhood of North Philadelphia on Wednesday. Philadelphia released its first property reassessments in three years. Many homeowners are seeing a significant increase.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

On a sunny afternoon, Antonio and Marie Cordero Bonaparte were decorating a dead tree stump with splashes of bright paint in front of their North Philadelphia home. To them, small gestures of beautification like these in the predominantly working-class, Latino neighborhood are a big reason more people are moving into pricey new construction near Norris Square.

“If we wouldn’t clean up our block and it was a slob place, nobody would be interested in living here,” said Antonio Bonaparte.

But now taxes are going up.

Bonaparte was shocked to learn last week that some property assessments in the neighborhood were more than doubling under the city’s latest property revaluation. He’s seen firsthand how those hikes can change a neighborhood.

» READ MORE: Rapidly gentrifying parts of Brewerytown and West Philly could see major tax spikes after the new property reassessment

When the Bonapartes relocated to Mascher Street after rising taxes and rents forced many Puerto Rican families out of the Fairmount neighborhood in the 1960s, they were the only Latino family on a German and Polish block. He inherited his rowhouse from his father, and plans to pass it down to his daughter.

“I’m too old to be moving and starting all over again. I’m retired, I got a pacemaker and a defibrillator, and I ain’t going nowhere until the cemetery,” said Bonaparte, 64.

Property records indicate the Bonapartes are enrolled in a city relief program that will shield them from a significant tax hike, but the couple worried that longtime neighbors will not survive without help.

While reassessments have been a political powder keg in Philadelphia for decades, gentrifying areas like this — where construction of new homes is widespread and local leaders fear rising property taxes will quicken the displacement of long-standing Black or Latino communities — have increasingly become battlegrounds over city tax policy.

Philadelphia’s new property reassessment, its first in three years, bumps up residential property values 31% on average citywide, but an Inquirer analysis of assessment data found that residents in some rapidly developing areas could see hikes three to eight times that.

On Bonaparte’s block around Norris Square, median property valuations skyrocketed 104%, from $57,200 to $116,800. Three miles away in Brewerytown, where new construction booms, some areas saw median property values erupt over 75%, while whiter areas across the city saw more modest percentage increases.

The Inquirer analysis, which is based on assessment data scraped from the city’s website Monday, raises questions about equity and the city’s new methodology, but the Office of Property Assessment has yet to release full details about how it evaluated properties.

Reassessments in 2018 and 2019 increased the median value of single-family residential homes 10.5% and 3.1%, respectively, and resulted in significant tax hikes for thousands of homeowners, drawing anger and scrutiny from taxpayers and City Council. This year’s revaluation is the first after the city implemented a long-delayed new computer system, made other improvements, and got a new chief assessor.

In an interview, OPA Director James Aros Jr. said the city attempted to correct past inaccuracies and bring the city’s 580,000 properties in line with the real estate market’s growth.

“We’ve analyzed several new years’ worth of sales from the last reassessment, and we would expect that these reassessments better reflect current market conditions,” Aros said.

» READ MORE: What we know about how Philly conducted the 2023 citywide property reassessment

Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council are negotiating relief options as well as adjustments to the city’s wage tax to help ease the financial pinch as they work to pass a budget for the next fiscal year by June 30. But that budget could be finalized months before homeowners receive notices in the mail about their new values.

Many internet-savvy homeowners have looked up their new property values on the city’s website. But the city said it may not mail official notices until September, a month before the appeals deadline. Officials blame the delay on supply-chain issues and trouble obtaining envelopes.

Advocates for low-income homeowners said many will be confused by the notices, with little time to process the tax break and appeal options that could help save them thousands.

“They don’t understand [the notice], they ignore it, and when they get their tax bill in December, they’ve missed the deadline for the informal appeal,” said Jonathan Sgro, an attorney at Community Legal Services. “The city needs more aggressive outreach and education.”

Outrage, confusion, and outreach

The most popular break is the homestead exemption, which knocks $45,000 off the assessed value for owner-occupied residences, and city officials are looking to raise that amount to $65,000. The Longtime Owner-Occupant Program helps eligible homeowners who are facing assessment increases of 50% or more, and there’s also a tax freeze alternative for seniors living on modest incomes. About 78% of homeowners participate in at least one tax relief program, according to OPA.

But for less tech-savvy homeowners — especially the elderly or those with limited English proficiency — learning about and accessing those relief options can be challenging.

“The next two weeks our work is basically explaining in Spanish what this means to the neighbors, sit them down one by one, enter their [address] into the site, and do what the government is supposed to do, to make sure that they understand what is happening,” said Michelle Carrera Morales, executive director at Norris Square Action Alliance.

Some homeowners were shocked to learn from an Inquirer reporter that their home had doubled in assessed value.

Judith Robinson, a North Philadelphia community activist who works in real estate, said she planned to contest the assessment of her longtime North Philadelphia home that rose from $58,200 to $109,000, an 87% increase.

“I encourage the whole community — the longtime homeowners — to challenge their assessments, because it’s such a hodgepodge of numbers,” Robinson said.

City officials expect 15,000 to 18,000 appeals this year. Housing advocates, meanwhile, worry about the impact on low-income renters, whose landlords can’t benefit from those relief measures and may pass along tax increases to tenants.

The gentrification battleground

At El Sabor, a Puerto Rican eatery on Norris Square park, business owner Billy Joe Diana said he can afford the tax increases at the properties he owns in the neighborhood, but he predicts cash-strapped old-timers will accept low-ball offers to sell their homes if money gets tight.

“The city only cares about the money,” Diana said of the assessments. “It’s wrong against the people living here a long time.”

Not everyone is as concerned about the hike, though.

Kim Correa, who grew up in the neighborhood, said she and her siblings help their mother with the bills, and there are benefits to the neighborhood’s increased desirability. “I like that it’s a lot nicer,” Correa said. “We finally get to see different faces.”

But the reassessment also ballooned home values in parts of North and West Philadelphia that have seen less private market interest in recent years, and poverty levels remain dire as ever.

Part of North Philadelphia’s Glenwood section saw single-family homes previously valued at $39,100 on average — so an owner with a homestead exemption wouldn’t have to pay any taxes — jump to $126,800 on average, a startling 224% spike.

Mike Suley, former chief assessor in Allegheny County, said Philadelphia officials made a “big mistake” in releasing the new assessment values without first explaining the methodology and identifying tax offset measures.

“This is going to scare the heck out of the people in those poorer areas,” Suley said. “They need the government to assure them we won’t pay one penny more than their fair share of taxes.”

Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at

About the data
The Inquirer analysis is based on 2023 assessment data pulled from the city's property assessment site Monday afternoon, gathering about 581,000 records. That’s slightly below the city’s estimate of more than 582,000 total records. Inaccurate or incomplete data could affect the results of the analysis.

The analysis looks at all properties the city categorizes as single-family homes; the dataset does not allow a reliable way to filter out properties that have changed significantly, such as new construction. The new data was combined with 2019 assessment data, and properties were then assigned to census tracts based on their geographic location. The Inquirer calculated the median assessed value of single-family homes in 2019 and 2023 in each census tract, as well as the percent change in those medians. The 2019 figures are not adjusted for inflation.