I read with great interest the Forum piece by Liz Hersh on a land bank for Pittsburgh. (“Say Yes to a Land Bank,” March 23). Like Ms. Hersh, I believe the creation of a land bank could be a powerful tool that would facilitate greater public interest and input into the disposition of abandoned properties here in the city. In the end, it could end up empowering communities to reverse the decadeslong decline that has caused widespread housing demolition and population loss.
By viewing empty lots and houses as opportunities, and not barriers, to revitalization, a land bank can set the table for further long-term investment. The current system now leaves the city in possession of thousands of such properties and, because of a burdensome legal process and the large amounts of unpaid liens recorded against them, makes it almost impossible to put a serious dent in the problem. I have heard an estimate that to put the properties that sit abandoned today back into productive re-use could take upward of 60 years if we leave the system as it is.
Currently, we saddle some of our poorest neighborhoods, like Garfield, with the task of unwinding the legal and financial tangle that accompanies vacancy and blight. As amended by Councilwoman Deborah Gross and Councilman Corey O’Connor, the bill now under consideration at council would establish a land bank that has clear ties back to the communities most affected by the problem. Their voices would be heard in determining what the ultimate fate would be for the abandoned properties that pockmark their neighborhoods, so that the city doesn’t make the mistake of selling them indiscriminately to buyers who don’t share the interests of concerned stakeholders.
A land bank for Pittsburgh will strengthen market activity in hard-pressed communities, engage their residents in charting the future and add value in many instances where it has been lost.