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Legislation Proposed to Transform Troubled Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

In late October a bill was put forward by Councilman Ricky Burgess that has the potential for drastic improvement in some of Pittsburgh’s less active neighborhoods. The bill proposes the formation of a land bank that would systematically acquire and resell the thousands of vacant, tax-delinquent, and blighted (in an extreme state of neglect) properties within Pittsburgh.

Homes in Need of Repair: A Drain on the Neighborhood
Numerous complaints about the vacant properties gave rise to the bill proposal. Residents of East End neighborhoods, represented by Mr. Burgess, found the buildings unsightly, giving whole neighborhoods a run-down look and even creating vermin problems.
A report released by the University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban reform has confirmed the need for action. Surveyors analyzed vacant and blighted properties in Homewood, one of the neighborhoods under Mr. Burgess’ jurisdiction. They found that 60% of the taxable properties of the neighborhood were delinquent, and half of those delinquent for five or more years. About 44% of Homewood’s plots were empty lots, and about 30% of its houses were vacant and neglected. This means that within this neighborhood alone, roughly 3,600 homes and lots are unused and causing problems for the surrounding areas.
In all, the land bank project would be able to reclaim about 16,000 properties across Pittsburgh and its boroughs. The ultimate goal would be to transform them into livable homes for sale and sell lots as side yards for neighboring properties or turn them over to community projects, such as urban gardens and playgrounds.

Land Bank Action
While the city of Pittsburgh already works to acquire and resell delinquent properties, the land bank would greatly expand on and accelerate that process. The land bank would establish a full staff committed to finding, appropriating, and bringing these areas to code for resale. Funding for the program, including staff wages and demolition and maintenance costs for acquired properties, would come from property sales, enabling the program to pay for itself and run self-sufficiently. To go into action, the legislation will have to be first approved by the Pittsburgh City Council.

Benefits of a Land Bank
Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods would benefit from the land bank in a number of ways. The beautification and maintenance of these properties would clean up the appearance of the neighborhoods, possibly allowing property values to appreciate and spur on the marketability of homes in these areas. Furthermore, a greater availability of housing would offer new opportunities for home buyers and give another jolt to the economy and real estate investment, particularly aiding in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.