So far, the city has granted 193,000 exemptions out of a potential 340,000, while it has rejected about 30,000, often because residents forgot to sign their applications or made other clerical mistakes. The exemption allows residential owner-occuptants to reduce their taxable assessed value by as much as $30,000.
The administration says it has mapped areas where fewer homeowners have applied for the exemption so it can target a publicity campaign at those neighborhoods, which are among the city's poorest and most limited in English fluency. Officials plan to distribute brochures and applications in English and Spanish and possibly hold a Spanish-language town-hall meeting. They may also train community organizers to go door-to-door in some neighborhoods.
That's good, because the new assessment system remains a mystery to many residents, and the tax break could soften its blow.
Contrary to some of the hysterical misinformation that has been spread, however, city figures show the reassessment won't be as punishing as some feared. Most homeowners would pay about the same as before or slightly less.
In blossoming areas like Graduate Hospital and Fishtown, though, property owners are likely to pay higher taxes. But they may have been underpaying for years. The old system put a disproportionate burden on some owners of lower-value properties.
While homeowners should get more time to apply for the homestead exemption, there is no good reason to delay the transition to a fairer property tax assessment system, as some Council members have proposed. It took years to turn away from an unfair system, and it would be irresponsible to backtrack.