After more than a decade of coalition building, education efforts, and advocacy with state leaders, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania (the Housing Alliance), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, is celebrating progress on addressing blighted and abandoned properties communities across the state. A 2012 state law, hard-fought for by the Housing Alliance, allows municipalities to establish land banks. The Housing Alliance provided and supported land bank implementation trainings in 2013, and increased support to advocates and local governments by dedicating staff to technical assistance and training throughout 2014.
Land Banks are locally created and controlled quasi-governmental entities with the purpose of converting vacant, abandoned, tax-delinquent, and foreclosed properties to productive use. Before passage of the legislation, antiquated state laws prevented municipalities from acquiring blighted and abandoned properties because of problems such as tax liens exceeding market value and unclear titles. Now, municipalities can establish land banks that will be responsible for making sure every property has a clear and insurable title, and can extinguish tax liens to make properties more marketable. As a result, the properties become more assessable and affordable for developers, community groups, farmers, gardeners, realtors and others to purchase and return to positive use.
Land banks yield economic gains by providing new homes, construction jobs, businesses opportunities, and increased tax revenue to the state. Conversely, not dealing with vacant properties and structures in poor or unsound condition is costly. In a 2013 study, Financial Impact Analysis of Blight, the Tri-COG Initiative—comprised of Steel Valley, Turtle Creek and Twin Rivers Council of Governments—found that their 41 collective communities had 20,077 vacant lots and 7,158 blighted lots. Together, the communities incurred $10,720,302 in direct costs to municipal services, $8,637,875 in costs related to the loss of tax revenue, and nearly $250 million associated with a loss in property value. After initial startup, which could be funded through Community Development Block Grant funds, realignment of existing resources, or donations, land banks are self-funding, making them a revenue-neutral option for revitalizing neighborhoods.
Dauphin County, PA was the first municipality to establish a land bank, followed by Westmoreland County. On January 13, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed into law an ordinance creating the Philadelphia Land Bank. The victory followed a multi-year campaign spearheaded by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC), a Housing Alliance and NLIHC member. PACDC organized for-profit and nonprofit builders, neighborhood associations, realtors, architects, environmental groups, anti-blight organizations, and legal services groups, which formed the Philadelphia Land Bank Alliance. As a result of their advocacy, the city now has the ability to address an estimated 40,000 abandoned and blighted properties.
Advocates were also able to secure language in the ordinance that will spur affordable housing development throughout the municipality. Once the Philadelphia Land Bank is formally established, the city will be the largest municipality in the country to create a land bank.
With a grant from the Pennsylvania Local Government Training Partnership, the Housing Alliance provides land bank training and technical assistance activities to advocates and local governments. The Housing Alliance hosts monthly land bank network calls, coordinates trainings, collaborates with local trainers on their curriculum, provides oversight for training programs across the state, and performs community needs assessments.
“We have often said that blight is the common denominator in Pennsylvania,” said Cindy Daley, policy director for the Housing Alliance. “The excitement we are seeing around the state for land banks tells us that land banking may be the common cure.”
For more information contact Cindy Daley, Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, at firstname.lastname@example.org.