Some neighborhoods struggling with likely huge tax increases

Posted: February 18, 2013

Julia Lind was 7 years old when her father bought the house on South Fifth Street for $6,000 in the early 1970s.

Now 51, she co-owns the modest two-story rowhouse on the 1800 block of South Fifth Street in South Philadelphia. The house was valued at $24,900 for 2013.

But in 2014, under the new Actual Value Initiative system - which bases property assessments on market values - Lind's house will be worth $160,400. If the city sets the tax rate at 1.25 percent, she would pay $2,005 in property taxes - a 158 percent increase from this year.

"If that's the case, it's going to be a ghost town here," she said Saturday morning, standing in her foyer. "Ain't no way anybody's going to pay that. If they're going to pay two grand, they're going to pay it in a good neighborhood."

Now, after decades on Fifth Street, it might be time to sell, Lind said.

The tax rate isn't final until the city's budget is passed in June, but Lind's slice of South Philadelphia, known as Queen Village/Pennsport, is one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by higher assessments.

The Office of Property Assessment's new figures produced a median market value of $177,400 for homes in that neighborhood, and median tax bills are calculated to more than double to $2,153, an increase of $1,136.

About 88 percent will see their tax bills increase by more than $250. Just 9 percent will see bills stay the same or decrease.

Many on Fifth Street are renters, and while they won't pay property taxes, some worry landlords will increase rents to keep up with property values.

"We don't care who comes in," said Anthony Wescott, leaning out a second-floor window in the house he has rented for a year. "But [the city] is going to make it harder on us. They're just trying to push us out."

As South Philadelphia gentrifies, neighborhoods like Wescott's sit on the verge of change. Several houses on Fifth Street sport signs of renovation; others have clearly seen better days. Crime is still a problem, some neighbors say.

"It's sort of getting better, but then there are still shootings," said Candace Adams, an administrative assistant with the city. "They are throwing up houses, but quality-of-life things happen here that shouldn't happen."

Adams has lived on Fifth Street for seven years. Her tax bill will rise 213 percent next year - she'll pay $1,655 more in 2014.

"I haven't had a raise in how many years," she said Saturday morning about her own salary. "It's like, do you want me to live and work here?"

Contact Aubrey Whelan

at 610-313-8112, at awhelan@ or on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.

Inquirer staff writers Dylan Purcell and John Duchneskie contributed to this report.

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