Councilman backs relief for homeowners facing big tax jump

Graduate Hospital-area neighbors Richard Gliniak (left) and Alan Taylor, who have lived there more than a decade, face a big tax hike.
Graduate Hospital-area neighbors Richard Gliniak (left) and Alan Taylor, who have lived there more than a decade, face a big tax hike. (VIVIANA PERNOT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 18, 2014

When Richard Gliniak and Alan Taylor bought their Carpenter Street houses more than a decade ago, the now-trendy Graduate Hospital neighborhood was still mired in crime and violence.

"This was a major drug-dealing area," Gliniak said recently, sitting in his neatly appointed living room.

"First month I was here, I looked out the window and three guys were shooting," added Taylor, who said his wife was so discouraged she wanted to give up and move.

Gliniak and Taylor were among about six homeowners who bought near 19th and Carpenter Streets through a program for low- and moderate-income residents.

They stuck out the tough, early years, and watched as the neighborhood calmed and then bloomed with new houses, residents, and businesses.

They were, they say, among the pioneers on the block.

Now, because of what Councilman Kenyatta Johnson called a flaw in the system, these neighborhood stalwarts face crippling tax bills from rising property values.

"It's almost like we're being priced out," Taylor said. "It seems we're caught in a bureaucratic nightmare."

This is the scenario city politicians feared most during the years-long battle to implement a much-needed reform of the property-tax system, which took effect last year.

City Council, anticipating that longtime homeowners in gentrified neighborhoods would be hit with ruinous tax bills, passed legislation last year to create a tax-relief program - known as LOOP - that caps how much an assessment can increase for eligible owners.

But LOOP also has some restrictions, including one that bars homeowners who took advantage of the city's 10-year tax abatement on new construction from enrolling.

Gliniak's and Taylor's houses had the abatement, although they never applied for it themselves and were barely aware they were getting a break. Gliniak's abatement amounted to about $500 a year.

Gliniak's and Taylor's houses are now each assessed at more than $335,000, and their tax bills have shot up from about $800 to more than $4,000.

They have been denied enrollment in the LOOP program, which would have kept their tax bills at about $1,000 each.

Both live on fixed incomes, and they are unsure how they will afford the new taxes.

"When I think of an abatement, I think of new people moving in and building these big homes," Gliniak said. "When I think back on it, let me pay back the $500 so I can get in the LOOP."

Their houses also came with 15-year deed restrictions, so neither could sell for several more years - not that they want to.

"Me and Rich, we'd both like to stay in the neighborhood," said Taylor, who retired from the Philadelphia Gas Works. "When we moved here, I didn't see too many people knocking down doors to move here."

Gliniak said he'd been losing sleep over the situation.

"I feel trapped. . . . There's been all these promises, 'Oh yeah, we'll protect you,' " Gliniak said. "I actually think in the end there's not going to be any help."

But Johnson, who represents the Graduate Hospital area, said he intended to amend the LOOP legislation in the fall, when Council returns from recess, to allow people living in affordable homes to enroll in the program even if they had a previous tax abatement.

The fix for this particular problem could amount to adding a comma and a few extra words to the original bill, but Johnson still would have to shepherd support and get the change through the legislative process.

Johnson said he was also going to work with the city Office of Property Assessment to identify homeowners with the same problem - it's likely to be a small number given that the 10-year tax-abatement program is only about 15 years old.

"If you're low income, living in an affordable home, you have a deed restriction, and your taxes triple, you're totally in a jam," the councilman said. "We want to make sure those individuals who live within certain income guidelines . . . can be protected."

Taylor hopes Council can come through for him.

"Four thousand dollars is like one-sixth of my pension," he said. "It's a lot for me with the taxes as they were."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730

@troyjgraham

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