Memphis Diaz’s Bella Vista row home was valued at $84,000 last year. This year however, it’s estimated at nearly $400,000, the same as his neighbor’s home next door.
“Their house is almost brand new,” said Diaz. “But my house is not a brand new house. The house here is almost the same as it was in 1940. I’m open. They can come and do an inspection at my home.”
In the same neighborhood, only a few blocks away, Jackie Doyle says several thousand dollars separate her assessed value from her neighbor’s.
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“It was $20,000 less than when I looked on the Phila.gov website the other day,” she said.
Those major discrepancies were at the center of a debate among city council members on Tuesday, during a budget hearing for the office of property assessment. The OPA adopted a new property-tax system based on market values, known as the Actual Value Initiative. Under the system, the OPA analyzes the size and age of the property, its location, condition and use in order to determine its value.
According to the OPA website, the purpose of AVI is “to make sure that all values are assessed fairly and in compliance with state laws, statutes, and industry standards.”
The OPA sent out notices to residents at the beginning of the month. Many were outraged however when they saw dramatic increases in their tax bills due to AVI.
“If this is going to be a fair system, it has to be close to what they’re going to sell for,” said one council member during the meeting.
“This is a very flawed process,” said council member Jannie Blackwell.
Richie McKeithen, the head of property assessment, stated that anyone who disagrees with the OPA assessment can file a first level review with OPA. The deadline is March 31 or 30 days after an assessment is received. Philly.com reports the OPA has received around 16,500 requests for first level review.
McKeithen was also criticized for opting out of attending community meetings in Blackwell’s third district. McKeithen claimed he was threatened during a meeting earlier this month in University City.
"Realistically, you have to be concerned about people's safety," he said.
Blackwell insists that no one was threatened.
"They're saying they can't come into West Philadelphia," she said. "What kind of nonsense is that? Who do they think they are to not represent every citizen in this city equally?"
Blackwell attended a meeting in Kingsessing where homeowners vented about the new property assessments.
"Most of the homeowners are seniors," said Robert Mitchell, who says the market value of his University City home rose from $81,700 to $243,500. "Five to ten years from now a lot of them will be out of their properties."
"I'm a Senior," said Zemoria Brandon of West Philadelphia. "I'm 63 years old looking to possibly retire in the near future. But how can I keep up with those kinds of taxes?"