Councilmembers Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Bill Green introduced legislation Thursday that would consolidate the 10,000 land parcels comprised of 40,000 city-owned properties into a land bank, a single entity that could prepare the real estate to be more quickly and easily reused.
Right now, the vacant properties cost the city $20 million a year in maintenance and owe $70 million in back taxes.
“The city system of acquiring vacant properties is a very challenging and fragmented process,” said Rick Sauer of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, who has been advocating the initiative for years.
“Different city agencies hold properties and have different disposition policies,” Quinones-Sanchez said. “A land bank establishes a comprehensive city policy.”
Philadelphia’s vacant properties have long been the target of anti-blight efforts. “Where I live, I constantly have to see trash and crime,” said Connie Morrow of the Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land, a coalition of 30 nonprofits.
“It’s very scary, because I don’t know who’s going to jump out of a vacant lot, who’s in a vacant house getting raped or smoking crack,” she said. “We want to turn them into usable properties so we can build a community with housing, stores and jobs.”
“The issue of vacant properties has a tremendous impact on homeowners, whether you live across the street from a vacant lot and your property value declines or whether you’re a developer trying to acquire vacant properties,” Sauer said.
There are more than 75 land banks across the country, but few in major cities, save Detroit and Atlanta. “With this legislation, Philadelphia can be a national leader among large urban areas,” he said.
A resolution passed Thursday urging Harrisburg to reconsider its proposed asset test for those participating in a state program called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The initiative touched on a long-standing sore spot for city legislators.
“I’ve been around Harrisburg for 35 years,” Councilman Jim Kenney said. “I understand you don’t care about us and you’re not going to help us. But if you’re not going to help us, can you please leave us alone?”