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Councilwoman proposes creating Pittsburgh land bank

Though it might be hard to believe amid all of Pittsburgh’s recent development, the number of blighted or abandoned properties within the city is around 35,000 — about 19 percent of the city’s land. Every year, Pittsburgh spends about $20.5 million managing these properties.

Last Tuesday, District 7 Councilwoman Deb Gross introduced a bill which if passed would lay the legal groundwork for Pittsburgh to establish a land bank — a public, non-profit authority designed to streamline the process of redeveloping these tax-delinquent parcels. The land bank would be independent from the city and be run by a board of seven directors — four mayoral appointees and three city-council appointees.

“The first thing that it could do is accept property so that it would have assets. That’s why it’s important as to why it’d be independent and not a city agency,” Gross says. “If your only job is to clear title assets and sell them, you have a clean purpose and unencumbered operation.”

“I’ve talked to [the department of] city planning to try and seek out how this might happen in the next year or two, and they’ve given us 7,000 to 8,000 that are sort of out in the nebula which they call surplus. They don’t spend any time at all thinking about them. They’re just there and they’d be happy to unload them,” she added.

Under a state law passed in 2012, Pittsburgh has the authority to establish a land bank, and that bank has the ability to accept free property. It could also recoup about half of the money collected from outstanding taxes and liens when tax-delinquent parcels are sold through city treasurer’s sales. The land bank would not have the power of eminent domain.

Once established, the land back would replace the city’s current “land-recycling” method and use proceeds from sales of its assets to create a more focused and specific approach toward redeveloping these properties. Using the city’s current method at its current pace, it’s estimated that clearing the backlog of blighted properties would take about 60 years.  

Gross also noted that a Pittsburgh land bank could work in concert with municipalities outside the city, such as Wilkinsburg, to help faster spur community development projects.

“That’s stuff the URA wouldn’t be allowed to do but the land bank could,” she says.

Writer: Matthew Wein
Source: Deb Gross
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