Bill would create land bank for Pittsburgh vacant property

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Pittsburgh would begin a systematic effort to acquire and re-sell thousands of vacant, blighted and tax-delinquent properties under legislation introduced Wednesday by Councilman Ricky Burgess, who said the initiative has the potential to transform troubled neighborhoods.

Mr. Burgess' bill would create a Pittsburgh LandBank in cooperation with Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Public Schools. The bank would acquire as many as 16,000 vacant, delinquent and abandoned properties with the goal of providing sites for homes, side yards, development or community projects, such as urban gardens.

"In my community, the No. 1 complaint I get is not paving streets, it's not police presence, it's not even public safety," said Mr. Burgess, who represents troubled East End neighborhoods. Rather, Mr. Burgess said, the chief complaint involves vacant, neglected properties that give neighborhoods a run-down appearance, lure rodents and create other problems.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration, which has studied the land bank concept for at least two years, said it has not reviewed Mr. Burgess' bill but supports the concept.

A report last year by the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Social and Urban Research drove home the extent of blight in Homewood, one of Mr. Burgess' neighborhoods.

Nearly 60 percent of the taxable properties in Homewood were delinquent, and nearly half of the delinquent owners haven't made a payment in five years. About 2,300 parcels, 44 percent of Homewood's total, were empty lots. About 1,300 houses, 30 percent of the neighborhood's total, were empty, the report said.

While the city already acquires tax-delinquent properties and tries to resell them, Mr. Burgess said his bill would dramatically expand that work -- and provide manpower for doing it. The legislation authorizes the hiring of a manager, assistant manager and "appropriate clerical, legal and other support staff."

In some cases, he said, an abandoned house needs only minor repairs and could be "given away" by the city. "Once you own it, there's so many things you can do," he said.

Mr. Burgess said proceeds from property sales will help support the program, including the cost of demolishing or maintaining properties added to the land bank.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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