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Land Banks – Now!

Few things have a more negative effect on a community than blighted and unkept properties. Uncut grass, boarded up businesses and broken down homes broadcast the signs of a long slow death. With all of the heartache of the 70s and 80s still fresh in the minds of many Western Pennsylvanians, the PA Land Bank Act 153 enacted in 2012 is welcome relief.

This act authorizes counties and municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more to establish land banks to remove dilapidated properties and return them to a more productive use. In the City of Pittsburgh, approximately 35,000 of the 180,000 or so properties are vacant, abandoned and/or facing tax foreclosure. And by no longer being productive, they are not contributing to the tax base. In fact, these properties are actually reducing the value of properties in the general proximity. In the end, there is inequity – those that care about their property and being responsible citizens are overcompensating because in the local government world, property taxes are on the rise to fund our school districts. If certain properties are not contributing – in Pittsburgh’s case it’s 20% – the other properties are naturally paying more.

As a member of Mayor Peduto’s transition team, I proposed a 5 year plan of prevention, mitigation and remediation. During the prevention phase (1 year), every attempt is made to work with the property owner to comply with local ordinances, maintain the property and keep it on the tax rolls at its maximum value. If that does not work, the mitigation phase (years 2 & 3) begins – titles are searched, the property goes ‘on the clock’ to future investors as a property that may be available within 4 years. Also during this phase, the property is being prepped for the early stages of sale. In the remediation phase (final 2 years), all efforts to correct the situation have been exhausted and the property is being prepared to either go on the market, get torn down or whatever needs to be done to prepare it for repurposing.

This final phase is not cheap and often the cost of demolition may exceed what is recouped during the sales phase. But, in the end, most are confident that the purpose of the Land Bank will benefit everyone. Especially those hardworking taxpayers that do take pride in being part of the American Dream.

Mark Schuster, Partner

May 19, 2014

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