City plans to help residents deal with property appeals

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Free parking and the expertise of Duquesne University law students became the latest additions Thursday to a program designed to help Pittsburgh homeowners fight new property assessments.

At Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's request, the parking authority agreed to give free parking in its Second Avenue lot to city homeowners who drive Downtown for city-sponsored legal counseling at the City-County Building and informal and formal appeal hearings at the County Office Building. City employees and students in Duquesne's Economic and Community Development Law Clinic will provide the counseling.

Meanwhile, Senior Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. on Thursday set April 2 as the date for all property owners and taxing bodies in Allegheny County to file formal assessment appeals.

Although the appeal deadline is looming, the new numbers don't take effect until next year.

The free counseling will debut Tuesday at the City-County Building. A week or so later, city Controller Michael Lamb said, counseling sessions will begin at senior centers citywide.

The counseling is available to senior citizens and other city homeowners whose 2011 assessments totaled $150,000 or less. The free parking is available to city homeowners who drive Downtown for the counseling program or for informal or formal appeal hearings on any owner-occupied home.

The city will provide the parking authority with the names of city homeowners who have appointments for counseling or formal appeal hearings, and homeowners must provide photo identification upon entering the lot. Homeowners who want free parking for informal appeals must provide documentation of those proceedings; the county won't provide the names of those who signed up, the city said.

The authority operates a shuttle from Second Avenue to Grant Street. The City-County Building is on Grant, and appeal hearings are held at the County Office Building a block away on Ross Street.

Pittsburgh homeowners must call 311, the city service line, to schedule a counseling appointment Downtown or at a senior center. They will receive help analyzing comparable properties, developing an appeal and arguing their case at a hearing.

The city also is subsidizing property appraisals for seniors and other city homeowners meeting the $150,000 assessment threshold. The appraisals, to be provided by firms vetted by the city, cost $250 each. The city will pay half.

Mr. Lamb said he approached Duquesne about participating in the program and noted that the 22 students who agreed to take part have been certified to do appeals by the state Supreme Court.

Countywide, property owners already have made about 35,000 requests for informal hearings or formal appeals. While those proceedings now take place in the County Office Building, county officials are working to set up as many as four satellite locations, possibly the Kane Regional Centers in Ross, Scott, McKeesport and the city's Hazelwood neighborhood.

The deadline for seeking informal hearings already has passed for property owners in Pittsburgh, Mount Oliver and the eastern suburbs. The deadlines for making those challenges is March 7 for the southern suburbs and March 16 for the northern and western suburbs, county manager Jim Flynn said.


Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548. Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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