Providing relief for higher home assessments

Philadelphia 2nd District Council member Kenyatta Johnson. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

A proposal to reduce displacement from homes due to the city’s new property assessments has been approved by City Council.

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents parts of South and Southwest Philadelphia, created the “Save Our Homes” plan in an effort to provide relief to those affected by the citywide assessment that will result in large increases to many residents’ property tax bills.

Johnson’s seven-point plan was approved by City Council on June 23 and will offer residents ways to counteract the increases.

The goal of the Save Our Homes plan is to reduce displacement, making property taxes fairer and more transparent while remaining revenue neutral.

“The City’s Office of Property Assessment announced in May that property assessments for tax year 2023 are going up by an average of 31% citywide,” Johnson said. “In some neighborhoods, assessments have doubled. Increases are highest in low-income Black and Brown neighborhoods. Massive displacement is a real threat. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the support and collaboration of my Council colleagues, the Save Our Homes property tax relief plan is a package of solutions that will benefit homeowners and renters throughout Philadelphia. I’m proud to have at least 12 councilmembers as co-sponsors of all four of the bills in this package.”

The major portions of the Save Our Homes plan are:

  • Increase the city’s Homestead Exemption from $45,000 to $80,000. This will increase the value of the benefit from $629 per year to about $1,120 per year.
  • Allow retroactive enrollment in the Senior Tax Freeze, as far back as 2018. This will allow low-income seniors to freeze their property assessments at the time they became eligible, rather than the time when they enrolled.
  • Multiple changes to the Longtime Owner-Occupants Program that will significantly increase access for low- and mid-income homeowners. Newly eligible households would increase for thousands of homeowners. 
  • Allocating at least $15 million for the city’s rental assistance program in the proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget.
  • Allocating at least $2.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget for an outreach campaign to inform Philadelphia residents about property tax relief programs available to them. 
  • Allocating $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget for free legal assistance for low-income renters facing displacement due to rising rents, in part because of assessment increases. 
  • According to officials, the Save Our Homes property tax relief plan has support from Community Legal Services, which assists clients when they face the threat of losing their homes, incomes, health care and even their families.

“If we don’t expand relief programs, higher property tax bills will hit homeowners hard at a time when people are still reeling from the economic crisis of the pandemic,” said Jonathan Sgro, CLS Supervising Attorney/Homeownership and Consumer Rights Unit. “With families and seniors already struggling to pay their mortgages, many homeowners are at risk of losing their homes. We are so grateful to Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson and the City Council members who are supporting this legislation to prevent homelessness and preserve intergenerational wealth. Expanding access to these programs is a huge step forward in ensuring Philadelphia homeowners get the help they need.”

Once the bill is signed into law by Mayor Jim Kenney, $80,000 of a property’s assessed value would be exempted from property taxes. According to OPA’s 2023 data, $189,800 is the median market value for Philadelphia owner-occupied homes.

Once a Homestead application is accepted by the city, a Philadelphia homeowner could save around $1,119 on next year’s property taxes, an increase from the average savings of $629 a year today.                                   

Residents will never have to reapply for the exemption and would receive property tax savings every year, as long as the person continues to own and live in the property.