June 28, 2011 |

Mayor leads effort to tackle blighted properties

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl recently spoke at the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities' (PLCM) annual convention, after which he encouraged attendees to join him in signing a letter in support of House Bill 1682, known as the Land Bank Bill.

The legislation would give Pennsylvania municipalities the ability to create public land banking authorities in order to efficiently acquire, manage, and develop tax-foreclosed property.

"Over a year and a half ago I formed the Land Recycling Task Force to help address the overwhelming issue of blighted properties," said Mayor Ravenstahl. "Through these discussions we determined that if we are going to build off of the gains we've made in turning our blighted properties into community assets, we must be able to repurpose vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties through the use of land banks."

The city currently works to address these issues through a number of mayoral neighborhood initiatives that seek to improve neighborhood pride and economic development by empowering community members to turn blighted lots into "green" neighborhood assets. Initiatives include the recently announced Vacant Lot Clean Up Grant Program, which offers grants to community-based organizations to spruce up some of the city's most visible vacant lots in low and moderate income neighborhoods; "Love Your Block," a block revitalization initiative announced in the servePGH plan; and the Green Up Pittsburgh Program, which provides resources for urban greening projects.

With more than 20,000 vacant properties in Pittsburgh, and an estimated 300,000 vacant properties in Pennsylvania, land banks would provide an effective option to address the extensive abandonment issues on a larger scale. Land banking has become a national best practice to handle these issues, and there are currently 79 land banks in operation around the country. Land banks are self-funding and do not require appropriations or existing revenue from the state or local government.

"This legislation will benefit rural, suburban, and urban communities alike throughout Pennsylvania," said Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski. "Land banking will allow us to take back the vacant properties that are currently diminishing the sense of community among our neighbors and erasing the value of investments in our homes and communities."

The State Legislature considered this issue last session, but due to time constraints was unable to address the matter. The Land Bank Bill was re-introduced by Representative John Taylor, and 38 co-sponsors.

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