Property

Bill to expedite property acquisitions for Pittsburgh Land Bank clears senate

Pittsburgh’s Land Bank was created in 2014 to try to help the city address its large number of blighted properties and return them to the housing market, but efforts have largely failed.

Over the first eight years of the Pittsburgh Land Bank’s existence, the bank had only acquired two properties.

This week, a bill passed Pennsylvania’s state Senate that hopes to help the land banks of Pittsburgh and other Allegheny County municipalities.

Senate Bill 811 is sponsored by state Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, and would allow land banks within the county to acquire properties through the sheriff sale process. This process is only currently allowed in Philadelphia.

The Pittsburgh Land Bank started in 2014, and it currently acquires property through the treasury sale process, which takes longer than a sheriff’s sale.

David Geiger, senior advisor at the URA, said if the bill becomes law, it should speed up property acquisitions for the Pittsburgh Land Bank by 12 to 18 months.

“SB 811 will accelerate and enhance the ability of our local land banks to return vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent property to productive use,” said Fontana.

Fontana said that in the city of Pittsburgh, there are about 24,000 parcels of taxable property that are considered vacant. He said this amounts to millions of dollars in lost property value.

Geiger said the URA, of which the Pittsburgh Land Bank is an affiliate, supports SB 811 and praised its bipartisan support. The bill cleared the senate on a unanimous vote. Gegier is hopeful it will clear the house thanks to Republicans joining Democrats in backing the bill.

“This [bill] is about clearing blight and getting homes back on the tax rolls, and that is something that everyone can support,” said Geiger.

He added that speeding up the process for the land bank to acquire parcels should help with the bank’s goal of creating more community space, small parks, and affordable housing. He said redeveloping blighted properties also helps current residents of neighborhoods, because blight usually has a negative impact on nearby residents’ quality of life.

The Pittsburgh Land Bank currently is without a director after Diamonte Walker left for the private sector in March. But Geiger said that the land bank is currently scaling up and URA and land bank staff are still working on acquiring and redeveloping properties.

Geiger said the bill is a top priority for Pittsburgh’s Land Bank, but cautioned that it is only one part of improving work at the bank.

“There is no one single ingredient that is going to get us a meal overnight,” he said. “But it is important to get these changes so the land bank functions in a way that it was initially conceived.”

Senate Bill 811 now heads to the state House for consideration.

Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at rdeto@triblive.com or via Twitter .



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