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Assessment frequency and equity of the property tax: Latest evidence from Philadelphia

Yilin Hou, Lei Ding, David J. Schwegman, Alaina G. Barca

Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, November 2023

Yilin Hou headshot

Yilin Hou

Philadelphia's "Actual Valuation Initiative" adopted in 2013 creates a unique opportunity for us to test whether improved reassessments at short intervals to true market value improve property tax equity. Based on a difference-in-differences framework using parcel-level data matched with transactions in Philadelphia and 15 comparable cities, this study finds positive evidence on equity outcomes from more regular reassessments.

The quality of property assessment improves substantially after 2014, although the extent of improvement varies across communities. Cross-city comparisons confirm Philadelphia's improvement in the quality and equity of property assessments after adopting the initiative. These results highlight the importance of regular reassessment in places where property values increase quickly, and they shed light on the disparate impacts of reassessment across property value and across neighborhood income, race, and gentrification status.

The paper makes the case that the property tax, if designed well, can be an equitable tax instrument.