Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Habitat Homeowners Offered Appeal Help

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Habitat Homeowners Offered Appeal Help

Article excerpt

Owners of about two dozen Habitat for Humanity houses in some of Allegheny County's poorest municipalities are facing new property assessments that have more than doubled.

Maggie Withrow, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the nonprofit organization, said the new, higher real estate values contradict the results of recent private appraisals, which showed modest gains at best in places such as Braddock, North Braddock and Duquesne.

She pointed to a Habitat-renovated home owned by a low-income family on Corey Avenue in Braddock. Its current assessment is $38,200, but county assessors revalued it for 2013 at $110,100, an increase of 188 percent. The new assessment compares to a 2010 property appraisal of just $32,000.

"It is not feasible that the house could have gained so much in two years," Ms. Withrow said.

Justin Ackerman, a lawyer on Habitat's volunteer board, and his law firm, Babst Calland, have agreed to represent Habitat families who want to appeal their new values at no cost.

"We're not asking that these homeowners be treated differently," Mr. Ackerman said. "We want to have their reassessed values reflect market values."

About 20 families thus far have requested representation from Babst Calland. Property owners have until Monday to appeal their new assessments, which will go into effect in 2013.

Since 1986, Habitat of Greater Pittsburgh has renovated or built houses for 71 families in a dozen different city neighborhoods and suburban communities. Mr. Ackerman said that about one-third show evidence of being overassessed.

Families selected for the program must provide a minimum of 350 hours of labor, or "sweat equity," to qualify. They also must have income between 30 percent and 60 percent of the $64,900 mean income for the region. For the Pittsburgh area, those numbers are between $19,450 and $38,900 for a family of four. …

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