Property Reserve details discussed on Mt. Wash.
January 21, 2020
Representatives from various community organizations educated Mt. Washington residents about the City of Pittsburgh Property Reserve and the importance of property recycling at last Thursday’s Mt. Washington Community Development Corporation (MWCDC) community forum on Virginia Avenue.
The discussion was led by Claire Kealey, policy coordinator at Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group (PCRG), who described the lengthy process required for community groups to acquire vacant, tax-delinquent properties through the City of Pittsburgh Property Reserve.
According to Ms. Kealey, the first step is for community groups to identify vacant properties in the neighborhood. To be eligible for the property reserve, a property must be tax delinquent for a minimum of one year and cannot have anyone living in it.
After a vacant property is identified, community groups must submit an eligibility request along with a strategic development plan to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for approval.
The URA notifies the legal property owner, who then has a chance to pay the taxes and reclaim the property. If the owner doesn’t claim it, the property is sent to a Treasurer’s sale and sold to the highest bidder. If the property is not sold in the sale, it is entered into a 90-day redemption period where the owner has a second chance to pay taxes and reclaim the property.
Following the redemption period, the city is allowed to take legal steps to claim ownership of the property and sell it to a community group. The sale price is usually $100 for a lot or $1,000 for a structure, but costs often exceed $4,000 including fees.
Community groups then develop the property and either put it back on the market or sell it to a private company for further development. Any proceeds acquired from the sale are split with the city.
The PCRG helps support the overall process by mediating any issues between the city, URA, and community group. They also provide education around vacant land development and advocacy around vacant land use.
“This is a tool to revitalize land,” Ms. Kealey said. “There are always vacant properties in areas where the market is weak. Liens and taxes owed often exceed value of property.”
According to Kendall Pelling, director of land recycling at East Liberty Development, Inc., getting a tax-delinquent property back to tax role prevents the city from raising taxes overall and allows communities to maintain affordable housing.
“Neighbors know these properties better than anyone,” Mr. Pelling said. “If we can catch these properties earlier, we can save the city much more money. It is a much better idea to recycle the property than to let it become abandoned or decay.”
David Serbin, real estate manager at the Hill CDC, said his organization leverages the city’s Property Reserve program to acquire tax-delinquent properties for around $4,000.
The CDC then hires contractors to replace roofs and windows, renovate bathrooms and kitchens, and install new heating and air conditioning. From there, the Hill CDC will put the home on the market for around $120,000.
“The idea is not to over-improve them,” Mr. Serbin said. “We’re trying to keep them affordable to people. To make them at least as affordable to own as it would be to rent.”
Executive Director Gordon Davidson said the MWCDC has been able to successfully utilize the land reserve program over the years. Since 2009 the MWCDC has acquired more than 47 properties from the reserve, though some were acquired on behalf of the Hilltop Alliance.
In addition to the land reserve discussion, Tene Croom, senior communications specialist, gave a brief presentation on the services provided by ALCOSAN and the nonprofit’s impact on the community.
According to Ms. Croom, ALCOSAN treats 250 million gallons of wastewater each day at their treatment facility on the North Side. The nonprofit also maintains 90 miles of interceptor sewers across the Pittsburgh region.
ALCOSAN will be working to take several steps to prevent sewage from entering area rivers following a consent decree with numerous federal organizations. Expansion of the treatment facility and the sewer system are two steps that will aid that effort.
Ms. Croom invited the MWCDC to participate in a private tour later this spring or early summer.
“We are building and expanding,” Ms. Croom said. “What we’re doing is building on and around the existing plant. In just a couple of months we’re going to be starting new tours.”
ALCOSAN also offers programming for kids and internships for students. Job seekers who wish to pursue a career with ALCOSAN can complete an application at the plant’s office Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Additionally, executive director Gordon Davidson announced the MWCDC is looking to fill a list of volunteer positions. They range from short-term to long-term opportunities.
Residents interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with the MWCDC can contact program manager Amanda Abernathy at email@example.com.