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With the results of the city’s property tax reassessment project soon to be released, there has been no shortage of projections as to what the consequences of the undertaking will be on the city and neighborhood levels.

Most recently, City Council members have begun to argue for a tax rate as low as 1.2 percent. That came on the heels of Mayor Michael Nutter releasing some preliminary data – based on a 1.25 percent tax rate and incorporating no tax relief measures – to City Council. The data set revealed that 71 percent of homes would see a change of less than $400 in their annual property taxes, one way or the other.

Overall, these projections said approximately 60 percent of properties would see some increase, and 38 percent would see some decrease. The remaining 2 percent would see no change whatsoever.

These changes were not uniform across the city and could typically be marked by neighborhood-wide trends.

The border between University City and West Powelton is irregular in shape. Lancaster and 36th streets, where this trolley passed through, marks the westernmost point.

University City, for example, was projected to see property taxes generally increase. These increases coincided with demographic shifts that have transpired in the past decade or so. Overall, University City has seen dramatic changes overall in the average age, income and racial composition of the neighborhood.

In both 2000 and 2010, a majority of University City residents have belonged to the 15-34 age group. However, that demographic has consolidated over those years. In 2000, 62 percent of residents were in that classification, but that number rose to 69 percent in 2010.

Income has risen steadily over the past two decades. In 1990 the average household income in 2010 dollars was approximately $24,000 a year. That number jumped to about $38,000 a year – once again adjusted for inflation – in 2000. It continued to increase, albeit at a slower pace and was measured at about $46,000 a year in 2010.

The overall population of University City has dropped very slightly, from 51,295 people in 1990 to 50,977 in 2010. However, Caucasian, Hispanic and Asian populations have all increased in that time. The African-American population has been reduced significantly.

In 1990, the African-American population made up a majority of the neighborhood with 27,847 people, or about 54.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census. In 2010, that population only made up a plurality with 20,799 people. or 40.8 percent.

The expansion of University City could be seen on the 3600 block of Baring Street, where the shops Powelton Pizza and University City Medical Supplies sit one building away from one another. That side of the road is West Powelton.

Glenn Stieffenhofer, former associate director of housing services at Penn University, said the reason for these trends is directly tied to the expansion of the universities.

“I’ve worked at Penn, my niece goes to Drexel, and what I’m seeing is a lot of building,” Steiffenhofer said. “Old residents [are being] pushed out.”

The influence of the universities on the housing situation in the neighborhood is not limited to just the University City area.

Stieffenhofer, who purchased a building abandoned for nearly 50 years in the West Powelton neighborhood quite close to the border separating that community from University City, noted that students and faculty of Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania are beginning to bleed over into the surrounding neighborhoods.

Stieffenhofer purchased this building on the 3900 block of Baring Street with intentions to renovate it for residential use.

“It just amazes me how that boundary of where university students from those two universities are living now because I think 10 to 15 years ago, they didn’t cross Market Street, they didn’t cross 42 Street,” Steiffenhofer said.

Furthermore, he has noticed that longtime community residents did not favor this expansion.

“They want more longtime neighbors,” he said. “They want more stability.”

It remains unclear if the property reassessment will bring in this sought-after stability or destabilize the community further. Rising costs might force some longtime residents to look elsewhere for more affordable housing situations. The costs could also persuade potential tenants and landowners connected to the universities that further expansion is not worth it.

Ultimately, the upcoming reassessment release could determine how demographic shifts already occurring proceed in the University City area and the surrounding neighborhoods.


Published in partnership with Philadelphia Neighborhoods