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New Legislation Would Offer Tax Relief For Longtime Residents Of Gentrifying Neighborhoods

Chris Potter
90.5 WESA
Mayor Bill Peduto speaking at a press conference to announce a new tax-relief program for longtime residents of gentrifying neighborhoods.

Democratic state legislators hope to give the city of Pittsburgh a new tax-relief program for longtime residents in gentrifying neighborhoods, state Sen. Jay Costa and others announced today.

The “Longtime Owner-Occupant Property Tax Relief Act” would grant the city tools that include tax waivers or deferrals in neighborhoods with high growth.

Costa and other state legislators say many longtime residents have stuck with the city through good times and bad, and shouldn't be punished for that. 

“We don’t want them to be forced out of their home because of the positive economic development that’s been taking place,” said Costa during a Tuesday morning press conference in Mayor Bill Peduto’s chambers.

“Those who were here during the bad times, should be able to remain here,” said state Rep. Sara Innamorato, who represents Lawrenceville, one of the city’s fastest-growing areas. “Progress should not come at the expense of our neighbors.”

The three-page bill would grant Pittsburgh the ability to devise its own tax-relief programs. The city itself would define who is eligible, including which neighborhoods. Peduto said that one approach the city could use would be tapping money from the city’s Housing Opportunity Fund to offset the loss in tax revenue from granting relief to homeowners.

The legislation would have no effect on school district or county taxes. 

It's unclear how much such programs would cost, or how extensive they would be. Also unclear is how many residents have been displaced through gentrification. Typically, gentrification for homeowners occurs when the taxable value of their own property increases because of higher sales prices around them. Allegheny County does not reassess property values regularly, though the city school district has sometimes challenged valuations of residents, even when they don’t sell.

The legislation is just being introduced in Harrisburg, and Costa said the earliest it might be considered is this spring.

“My hope is that we can have something done when we conclude the June 30 budget,” he said. He said he had not talked to Republicans, who control both houses of the state legislature, about the measure, but added he had discussed similar efforts in the past, and “Many folks have been receptive.”

Peduto said that housing affordability is a complex problem, and that no one proposal could address it. Still, he said of the proposed legislation, “What it gives us is a critical tool as Pittsburgh changes.”

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.