Tag Archives: City of Philadelphia

Attend: SW Germantown PhillyRising Meeting, Thursday, March 27

Coming up! Get involved in PhillyRising and help shape Germantown’s future.

Learn more about what PhillyRising means for the neighborhood.

PR meeting pic


W Rockland St Under the Actual Value Initiative (AVI)

Now that data is available for the Nutter administration’s Actual Value Initiative (AVI), it’s time to take a look at how the city’s new property tax assessments will impact the tiny Unit Block of W Rockland Street, home to forty-six century-old row homes on W Rockland St. The estimates below are based on AxisPhilly’s property tax map, which shows how taxes would change for most properties if Philadelphia City Council passes a tax rate of 1.34% and a $30,000 Homestead Exemption.


  • Property types include homeowners, full house market rate rentals, row homes converted into full apartments, rooming houses, and full house subsidized rentals, which breaks down to twenty-eight owner-occupied households and fifteen rental properties (all types). Three properties are currently vacant, a new and unfortunate development.
  • The rentals are divided into: nine full house rentals (three market rate; five Section 8 – PHA/Housing Choice Voucher subsidies); two rooming house apartments (full house, not converted); and four houses converted into apartments.
  • There are six vacant lots – all maintained by block residents. St. Francis of Assisi Parish (now closed) and The DePaul Catholic School are also part of the block, at the corner of W Rockland and Greene Streets. The two properties are owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

View from the top of W Rockland St


2013 property tax bills for W Rockland St were listed at $600 for just about every house. In 2014, every property on the block will see an increase under the new AVI.  It’s appears that property assessments are still considerably off, both on the low and high end, as property conditions vary dramatically throughout the block. I am less interested in the “actual value” per se, and most curious about tax percentages and dollar increases.

Thirty-one W Rockland St households will see property taxes increase by 91 – 112%, while fifteen households will see taxes rise by 40 – 55%, according to 2013 to 2014 estimates.

Of the forty-six total units, sixteen households were approved for Homestead Exemption, which is only available for owner-occupied properties. Those approved for exemption will see tax increases of 40 – 120%, up from 2013 with an average increase ranging from $239 – 650.

As of Feb. 21, there are thirteen households on the block that did not receive Homestead Exemption (that are not rental properties), either because the property owners were ineligible or didn’t apply. Rental and owner-occupied households not eligible for Homestead will see tax increases of 91 – 122%, up from 2013 with an average increase of $544 – 724. (You can still apply for Homestead Exemption through July 31, 2013 online or by calling 215-686-9200.)

A PMBC "Clean Block Contest" judge chats with the Elders of the community, some of the block's longest residents

A PMBC “Clean Block Contest” judge chats with the Elders of the community, some of the block’s longest residents

It is important to note that W Rockland St, located in SW Germantown, is a low-income block with many residents living below poverty level, a high number of retirees and senior homeowners, and nonworking families. Based on our knowledge of the block, it is easy to see the divide in the chart. The W Rockland St households approved for Homestead Exemption as of now are nearly all long-term residents of 20+ years, working or middle-class, and consistently engaged in block-wide civic activities. These residents would by nature and opportunity be more aware of major city initiatives, like AVI and tax relief efforts. Read more

Harvard panel on Philadelphia sparks thoughts on the dilapidated built environment

By Emaleigh | Last week, I ended a job, got a new one and went to Cambridge on the fly to attend The Philadelphia Story: Planning. Politics. Reality, a panel at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Everything aligns in a Philadelphia story, right? The event was organized by the Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron, who is on a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard, and fellow Loeb Anne-Marie Lubenau, who has worked to transform Pittsburgh – PA’s second largest city – through design of the built environment.

Speakers included Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter; Alan Greenberger, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development; Harris Steinberg, Director, PennPraxis; and Glen Abrams, Manager of Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Office of Watersheds. One might expect to find this group at City Hall, but here they all were in Massachusetts.

The Philadelphia Story - photo via Changing Skyline

The Philadelphia Story was a walk through the city’s planning past to today’s scene. The audience heard about Greenworks Philadelphia, stormwater infrastructure initiatives and the innovative “Green City, Clean Waters” control plan, the Master Plan for the Central Delaware and the unfortunate expansion of the Sugar House Casino, the challenges of I-95, limitations of the city’s former transactional political system, the need to institutionalize programs and create systems beyond the 4-year plan, and then some. Head over to Inga Saffron’s blog or check out Ashley Hahn’s story on PlanPhilly for detailed accounts of the panel. For more about how the event influenced my own thinking, stay right here.

Part I: Planning and the Dilapidated Built Environment

The path of the conversation at Harvard pushed me to consider planning that effects Philadelphia’s struggling neighborhoods. My perspective is weighted by my experience in Germantown these past few years and the concentrated neighborhood improvement and stabilization efforts that my sister and I are spearheading on W Rockland Street.

I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the dilapidated built environment. Philadelphia is lined with aging houses in declining conditions. Given the number of Philadelphians living in poverty and the high rate of joblessness, among other factors, home repairs won’t make the priorities list any time soon.

When I pass through parts of Southwest Germantown in particular, I picture the scene 10-20 years ahead, looking beyond abandoned properties and at the conditions of occupied houses. I see my own block.

There is a tremendous need for home repair and improvement assistance programs. It feels like a crisis to me, one that without strategic, widespread action will damn neighborhoods in limbo, threatening the growth of the city.

Who is planning for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods that are literally falling apart, where residents struggle to maintain century year-old houses (like those on W Rockland Street), where gap-toothed blocks of row homes are dotted with vacant lots?

At Harvard, Mayor Nutter remarked, “Changing systems is one thing, changing culture is another.” My connecting point here is that there is a need for a system that is scaled for Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, like Germantown, which is focused exactly on that – changing culture in struggling neighborhoods, not through social services, but through planning and design and urban interventions that in turn build community, engage residents and set a new tone.

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