Altoona Land Bank eyes first property buy | News, Sports, Jobs

The Altoona Land Bank is preparing to acquire its first property, after the city recently provided operational funding and the board authorized the acquisition.

The targeted property is a house on the 1500 block of 19th Street that is up for judicial tax sale on Wednesday at the Blair County Convention Center.

Land banks have the legal power to intervene in county tax sales, acquiring properties before they go to auction, then disposing of them for the benefit of their communities, while ensuring that irresponsible parties don’t buy them and allow them to deteriorate further.

Prior to the sale, properties’ current owners can redeem them and thus retain ownership by paying the back taxes, according to Matt Pacifico, city mayor and a member of the Land Bank board.

If that doesn’t happen, the land bank pays the county the minimum bid price set for auction plus the real estate transfer tax, Pacifico said.

Minimum bids for judicial sales comprise the costs incurred by the Tax Claim Bureau, according to the Warren County Tax Claim website.

Most liens on the judicial sale properties are expunged, according to the Blair County Tax Claim Bureau website.

Ideally, the Altoona Land Bank will end up renovating the 2.5-story house, so that it can become part of the city’s tax-generating stock, according to Pacifico.

It’s not certain how that will happen, however.

The Land Bank could hire a contractor to do the work, then sell the property, or it could initially sell the property to a developer, who would then do the work or hire a company to do it, he said.

Presumably, once renovations occur, the property could be either sold or rented.

Or the Land Bank could add restrictions, such that it must remain single-family, owner-occupied, according to Pacifico.

“It’s all on the table,” he said.

The initial project could set a precedent that the Land Bank would follow for future projects, Pacifico said.

“We want to set a vision,” city Manager Omar Strohm said.

Or the Land Bank board might decide to handle each property “case-by-case,” Pacifico said.

Officials have long planned to begin with a manageable project “to get our feet wet,” said Rebecca Brown, director of codes and inspections.

The board doesn’t want to “(bite) off more than we can chew,” Pacifico said.

Yet renovation on that house is likely to be extensive.

Probably “a total gut,” Brown said.

The house is in a neighborhood consisting mainly of rentals, one that could be “teetering” toward decline, according to Community Development Director Diana White.

It’s possible the Land Bank may decide to raze the building, which could lead to creation of a mere side lot for a neighboring property, officials said.

A demolition would cost between $10,000 and $15,000, White estimated.

The Land Bank previously negotiated blanket sign-offs on its property acquisitions from the county and the Altoona Area School District, both of which can benefit from real estate tax revenues that the properties can generate.

If the proposed transaction goes through, the county will announce at the start of the auction that the city’s Land Bank has exercised its priority option, Pacifico said.

The Land Bank won’t be required to ensure that full prevailing wages are paid for work on the property, because it’s a single-family dwelling, according to Jim Trexler, the city’s housing program manager.

He isn’t sure what lead-based paint rules might apply, however, Trexler said.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Land Bank member Louisa Lobre-


Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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