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Apr. 27, 2012 10:00 am

Use this web app to see what city properties are tax delinquent: PlanPhilly and Inquirer project

Philadelphia has the worst property tax delinquency problem among big cities in the country. That’s what freelance journalist and former Inquirer City Hall reporter Patrick Kerkstra told an audience of about 60 people who gathered at WHYY as he demonstrated the tax delinquency web application he helped create to document the issue. He says there are […]

Philadelphia has the worst property tax delinquency problem among big cities in the country.

That’s what freelance journalist and former Inquirer City Hall reporter Patrick Kerkstra told an audience of about 60 people who gathered at WHYY as he demonstrated the tax delinquency web application he helped create to document the issue. He says there are more than 100,000 records of tax delinquent properties.

“There are many blocks in the city where the vast majority of properties are tax delinquent,” Kerkstra said, at the Philly Tech Week event, which included a panel discussion.

Visit the application here.

The core reason for the problem, Kerkstra and other panel members explained, goes something like this: the City of Philadelphia, with a high rate of low-income and elderly homeowners, has focused on wage and business taxes more than other cities, while keeping property taxes much lower. Because of the relatively smaller revenue windfall from property tax revenue, the City of Philadelphia has focused its resources elsewhere.

But Kerkstra made clear during his presentation that properties with back taxes are more likely to be a source of blight, crime and decay.

Or, more pragmatically, as panel member and eConsult vice president Kevin Gillen said: there are only four things you can tax in this world — people, income, business and property — and only one of them can’t move

The application maps city records on tax property delinquency dating back several decades. The app was created by a partnership between PlanPhilly and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The property tax delinquency app was originally released as part of an award-winning series that ran in the Inquirer. The project launched last fall, but the effort and reporting has continued.

You can see Kerkstra demonstrate the delinquency app below, which he says offers a sense of the scale of the problem:

Kerkstra then joined a panel discussion, which included Inquirer assistant multimedia projects editor Rob Kandel, EConsult Corporation vice president Kevin Gillen, Inquirer City Editor Julie Busby, to take questions from moderator, Matt Golas, PlanPhilly’s managing editor, as well as the audience.

The demo and panel Q&A was organized by PlanPhilly in conjunction with the Philly Tech Week lunchtime series.

To learn more about the property tax delinquency web app click here.

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Yael Borofsky was the lead reporter for Technically Philly from from December 2011 to June 2012 before leaving to pursue an urban studies graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she was an editor with the Breakthrough Journal in San Francisco. She loves hockey and coffee.

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