Punished for loyalty to Philly
We moved to Northern Liberties in 1977 when we purchased our first property, a small warehouse, for $20,000. Few people lived in Northern Liberties then. We had no windows at first, but slowly, over the years, developed it into a home and studio. We didn't borrow money to achieve our goals. We saved and I did the construction, spending about $100,000 in 35 years. Over time, we and other neighbors bought abandoned properties and created new and beautiful apartments to attract new neighbors to our blighted surroundings.
We created the anchor for the neighborhood. We made it safe enough for the big boys to come in and feel secure in their investments, but not in the same way as us. We came because it was all we could afford and we stayed. We didn't speculate. We didn't leave for the suburbs when our kids were of school age. We sent them to public schools, paid our taxes, joined the civic association, and worked to make this a great place to live.
Now when my wife, who just retired, and I are in our 60s, living on rental income from the properties we developed over 35 years, we are looking at the possibility of our tax liability becoming 50 to 60 percent of our income ("Out with old city tax system," Wednesday).
How is that fair, and what choices do we have since we do not want to be forced to move?
I am not opposed to higher real estate taxes. But to hit people like me with a 300 to 400 percent increase is unconscionable, whether phased in or all at once. We can't raise rents to that level and still keep our tenants, and we can't live on 50 percent of our current income.
Why is there no plan being considered that taxes a seller when he actually sells a property and makes a profit, like a city capital-gains tax? My home is worth $120,000 to me because that's what I put into it. Based on comps and the size of my property, my assessment could be 10 times that. My property is only worth that much if I can actually sell it for that much. Tax me then and let the buyer who paid that price, actually making that value real, incur a high real estate tax.
Right now I feel like a Class A sucker, as though we are being punished for being loyal to the city, to the concept of urban renewal, and to having not cashed out. So how stupid were we?
Ira Upin, Philadelphia
The future of the city
Property-tax reform in Philly will certainly be one of the top stories this year, and it's good to see The Inquirer stepping up the reporting on the need and process for this effort. I am often struck, however, by how weak a link is drawn in most reporting between the broken tax system and the school-funding crisis. Almost 60 percent of property-tax revenue goes to our public schools, yet reports linking the brokenness in each system are rare, and I'm often surprised how few people understand this critical link. I hope The Inquirer and other news sources realize this and break down the invisible wall between these two artificially separated silos. It's all about the future of our city, starting with our kids.
Jon Musselman, Philadelphia
Does AVI mean it's time to go?
Your editorial on actual-value reform ignores reality. Philadelphia is a sick city in many respects, and it needs to have incentives to stay, not to go. When tax rates soar, people will move or property values will plummet, or both. If Council wants to have an actual value initiative, fine. Then lower the rates to mitigate the impact. But if my taxes double in one year, as seems likely, I'm thinking it's time to go. The AVI will be the moment in time when modern Philadelphia died.
Mark E. Squires, Philadelphia