More than 7,000 Philadelphia property owners are contesting recently issued assessments of the value of their properties after officials increased the market value, and therefore the tax bills, for hundreds of thousands of homes.
The almost 7,200 appeals filed in response to the 2020 assessments, issued earlier this year, are about as many as the 7,700 filed by last year’s October deadline for appeals, according to the Board of Revision of Taxes (BRT). The 2019 appeal total was a five-year high for appeals, and the most filed since Philadelphia implemented a new system for valuing properties in 2014.
The continued high volume of appeals comes as the Office of Property Assessment (OPA) faces ongoing scrutiny from residents and City Council members. The median value of a single-family home in the city increased 10.5% this year, and will rise by an additional 3.1% under the 2020 assessments, released in April.
Those increases came with substantial tax hikes for thousands of homeowners. While the city’s assessment methods have long been criticized by taxpayers and city officials, recent reassessments have renewed anger and calls for reform.
BRT finished initial processing and counting of its 2020 appeals this month. The board, which has been criticized for its slow pace of resolving appeals, is still hearing 2019 cases. Carla Pagan, BRT’s executive director, said about 1,500 appeals for 2019 have not yet been heard.
“We are booked solid through the month of December” with 2019 appeal hearings, she said.
OPA is part of the mayor’s administration and is responsible for setting market values — which are used to calculate tax bills — and for resolving first-level reviews, or informal appeals that property owners can request after receiving their new assessments. The office was created as part of Philadelphia’s Actual Value Initiative, which changed the way it values property in 2014.
BRT, an independent, seven-member board appointed by Common Pleas Court judges, hears and makes decisions about formal appeal cases, which must be filed by a date in October each year.
Property owners had to contest their 2020 assessments with the BRT by Oct. 7, but thousands are still waiting to hear the results of informal appeals they filed months ago to OPA.
As of early this week, OPA had processed about half of the almost 11,700 informal appeals, according to city spokesperson Mike Dunn. Of the 5,800 completed, about 1,500 resulted in reduction of the property’s assigned market value.
Unlike in the past, many property owners have had to file their formal 2020 appeals to BRT without knowing the outcome of their informal appeals to OPA. Prior to this year, the opportunity to file later appeals caused the number of them to spike from 7,700 to 10,200.
After an audit commissioned by Council and released this year stated that the city’s assessment system is flawed, Council President Darrell L. Clarke called for new leadership at OPA. The audit’s findings were similar to an Inquirer analysis that found more than one-third of properties, many of them in low-income neighborhoods, overvalued, while the homes that are under-assessed tended to be in wealthier neighborhoods.
Mayor Jim Kenney, who has defended Philadelphia’s assessment practices while OPA committed to making some improvements, agreed earlier this year to search for a new chief assessor to replace Michael Piper. That search remains in progress, and Piper continues to lead OPA.
Clarke has also cited the assessment increases in the past two years, and their impact on longtime residents of gentrifying neighborhoods, as one reason for his push to reform the controversial 10-year tax abatement on new construction before the end of 2019.
“You can’t be in a position where you live on a block where you bought your home for $40,000 and you’re getting assessments and tax bills that say that your bills have more than quadrupled,” Clarke said.