Calls 1,207-Percent Increase in Foreclosure Petitions Filed by City Government Against Homeowners ‘Deeply Alarming’
Philadelphia, May 18, 2017 – Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) on Thursday called for the creation of a Tax Foreclosure Diversion Program to assist troubled homeowners and reduce foreclosure by the City on residents.
An ordinance proposed by Council President Clarke would require the City to offer housing counseling assistance and hardship payment agreements and deferrals to residents at risk of losing their homes to the City. Council President Clarke also called for greater support for homeowner outreach programs and organizations that work with seniors and other vulnerable populations, as part of a comprehensive and urgent approach to preventing foreclosures by the City on struggling homeowners.
“The City of Philadelphia must balance our need to collect revenues owed with our moral mandate to fight homelessness, poverty, and suffering. During the Great Recession, city government took a stand against lenders to defend homeowners who faced financial hardships. It would be hypocritical for the City to also adopt a single-minded approach toward collecting taxes with no regard for residents who face hardships,” Council President Clarke said.
In 2016, the City of Philadelphia filed 10,649 tax foreclosure petitions, a 1,207 percent spike from 815 petitions filed in 2010. Approximately 4,450 foreclosure petitions in 2016 were filed against owner-occupied properties, 85 percent of which were located in low- to moderate-income communities of color.
The ordinance authored by Council President Clarke would establish a tax foreclosure diversion program that permits deferrals of current and back taxes for residents whose incomes are insufficient for participation in existing payment agreement plans. Homeowners would be eligible for housing counseling assistance, hardship payment agreements, and would have the right to an in-person consultation with an independent housing counselor or attorney to mediate negotiations with the City and assist with hardship program applications.
The ordinance also includes a “hold harmless” clause, so that Foreclosure Diversion Program deferrals do not negatively impact the School District of Philadelphia or the City’s General Fund.
Council President Clarke added: “I continue to be concerned about priorities and policies in place at the Department of Revenue and its inefficient coordination with the Office of Property Assessment and the Philadelphia Land Bank. This Council has time and time again expressed support for equitable economic growth, for inclusive housing opportunities in rapidly growing neighborhoods, and for more healthy and affordable housing for low-income residents. We cannot become like the banks we have so often criticized, and put people struggling with poverty out on the street.”
Earlier this year, Council President Clarke requested a moratorium on lien and sheriff sales of vacant land and a review of Revenue Department and Office of Property Assessment procedures, in light of concern that parcels identified for specific use by the Land Bank were instead being sold off to high-end developers and speculators.
Philadelphia has a high percentage of low-income homeowners relative to peer cities. Of the 305,884 owner-occupied housing units in the City, 28 percent are of homeowners aged 65 or older, and approximately 107,294 owner-occupied households — or 35 percent — have household annual incomes under $35,000.
Read the ordinance.
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Council President Darrell L. Clarke is serving his second term as the President of Philadelphia City Council. He represents Philadelphia’s 5th Council District. More information at phlcouncil.com/DarrellClarke
Photo: Jeff Turner used under Creative Commons license.