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Residents throughout Graduate Hospital have expressed concern about what they perceive as a lack of fairness and accuracy in property value reassessments under AVI, regardless of how long they have resided in the neighborhood.

Shirley Peterson talked about her family's history in Graduate Hospital. Both her mother and brother owned homes on Saint Albans Street.

Shirley Peterson talked about her family’s history in Graduate Hospital. Both her mother and brother owned homes on Saint Albans Street.

Shirley Peterson, for instance, was born and raised in Philadelphia’s Graduate Hospital neighborhood. She attended the Thomas Durham School at 16th and Lombard streets, which is now Independence Charter, and Chester A. Arthur School at 20th and Catherine streets. In 1971, when she bought her house on Saint Albans Street, she paid $6,300 for it. Now, despite the fact that she hasn’t made any improvements to her home, it’s newly assessed value for 2014 is $292,600. Which means that her tax bill will likely go from $946.40 to $3,414.

“Who can afford it?” asked Peterson. “I’m retired. I only get one check a month.”

Her neighbor, Thurman Scott, has other complaints. He says the city’s Office of Property Assessment’s records show that he paid $1 for his house in 2012. But “I purchased the house in 1985,” said Scott. “I paid $32,000.”

A neighboring house, which has had a third story on it since about 2007, is described as still being a two-story property in OPA records, and is valued the same as Scott’s two-story home.

All of these discrepancies are leading some residents in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood to suspect that the city is really using AVI as a way to raise taxes — though the total revenue raised will be set by Council after it completes budgeting.

Avi Lazar has lived in Graduate Hospital since 2004.

Avi Lazar has lived in Graduate Hospital since 2004.

“They’re trying to hide it with the adjustment of the value of the houses,” said Avi Lazar.

Lazar has lived in Graduate Hospital since 2004. He moved to Saint Albans Street from the 2100 block of South Street in November.

“It would be nice that a $500,000 home was listed for $500,000 as opposed to $30,000. But they’re also increasing the taxes. It’s OK to go up by a little but it should be a reasonable amount. It shouldn’t be going up by 60-70 percent in a year. That’s a nice pay raise that nobody else is seeing.”

Kristen Albee, a neighbor who is also a board member for the South of South Neighborhood Association (SOSNA), agreed. She says residents have worked hard to improve the neighborhood, and it doesn’t feel quite fair that now, they’re paying a price for the fact that the work has paid off.

“It’s discouraging,” she said, adding later that was speaking personally, and not officially representing SOSNA. “We’re kind of getting hit because the neighborhood is getting better.”

Another problem, she said, is that the assessments – which they were expecting to be a “fair and accurate” representation of what various properties would actually sell for, appear in many cases to be way off the mark.

“It’s crazy. The numbers are all over the place,” she said. For instance, she and Francis Rainey live on the 2100 block of Saint Albans. When they bought their home in 2009 for $310,000, their property taxes were under $900.

“That was very affordable for us, especially with the wage tax. We both work in Center City. It’s about a 4 percent wage tax that you’re paying. Having lower real estate taxes, it was kind of a good compromise,” said Albee.

Their property’s reassessed market value for 2014 is $335,800. With the proposed 1.3 percent tax rate, Albee and Rainey’s taxes will increase 343 percent to $3,975. It’s particularly galling that a neighboring property, which is a similar type of home, is assessed at much less: $231,000.

Francis Rainey and Kristen Albee discussed AVI at Saint Albans Street's Spring block party.

Francis Rainey and Kristen Albee discussed AVI at Saint Albans Street’s Spring block party.

“It’s not fair or accurate in any sense of the word,” said Albee.

The value of property, whether undervalued or overvalued, has many residents concerned.

“The properties that have been renovated, it seems they don’t pay enough taxes,” said Harold Thompson. “I don’t know how they get the assessments.”

Many refurbished properties are receiving tax abatements. Owners of tax-abated properties pay taxes only on the land value, which has decreased in proportion to the overall value.

Thompson inherited his Saint Albans Street property in 1988. His taxes are now just under $1,000. But the property’s proposed market value for 2014 is $341,000. He was approved for the $30,000 homestead exemption, but at the proposed 1.3 percent tax rate, his taxes for 2014 will still increase 327 percent to $4,043.

“I’m a senior citizen. I can’t afford to pay $4,000 in taxes.”

And it’s not just the residents on fixed incomes.

Kate Avitabile purchased her home on Saint Albans Street for $314,900 in 2010, and was paying $947.40 in taxes on its assessed value of $30,300. Now? Her property’s new assessment is $232,200, and she expects her taxes to go up 219 percent to $3,019.

“They’re going to push out a lot of young families,” she said.

Residents are weighing the pros and cons of Graduate Hospital. Schools are struggling and, while it is a safer neighborhood, crime is still prevalent.

“There are still a lot of quality-of-life issues that we deal with,” said Albee.

Will residents leave the neighborhood because of increased taxes?

“There are other options,” said Avitabile. “We came from New York. We thought this was incredibly affordable. But, at the same time, we could go to the suburbs. I’m still finishing up my training in medicine so I’m here through June 2014. But after that point, we’ll have to see.”

Longtime residents are doing everything they can to reduce the negative impact of AVI so they are not forced to leave.

Shirley Peterson has applied and was approved for the homestead exemption. She also filed for the senior tax freeze program and sent her first-level review request to the Office of Property Assessment.

“I’m going to stay as long as I can.”

Published in partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods