Progress Report on Pennsylvania’s Land Banks Law Focus of Hearing, Says Keller
11/15/2017
HARRISBURG – Five years after the enactment of Pennsylvania’s Land Banks Law (Act 153 of 2012), the House Urban Affairs Committee on Tuesday held a hearing, led by Committee Chairman Mark Keller (R-Perry/Cumberland), to gather input from stakeholders on its effectiveness.

Act 153 enables local governments to form a land bank to acquire vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties and return them to productive reuse. There are currently 17 land banks in operation statewide.

“Land banks have proven to be a successful way to fight blight in communities large and small across the Commonwealth, and put these former eyesores back on the tax rolls,” said Keller.

Committee members heard how land bank programs are working in Philadelphia, Allegheny, Lackawanna and Northumberland counties.

“We completed one round of property submissions, which resulted in the decision to move forward and acquire 10 properties,” said An Lewis, Steel Rivers Council of Governments executive director. “We are working through our second round of property reviews, which should result in the recommendation to acquire an additional 15-20 properties.”

“There have been 36 properties returned to the tax role and productive use,” said George Kelly, Lackawanna County director of planning and economic development. “The majority of parcels have been provided to residents via the side lot program, in which they pay $100 for the property and a $70 recording fee.”

To date in Philadelphia, more than 2,300 parcels have been transferred by the city to the land bank, but only 58 properties have been acquired so far through the program.

“How can we do a better job?” said Herbert Wetzel, housing and community development executive director for Philadelphia City Council. “Moving forward requires the adoption of a policy framework that maximizes the benefit of creating the land bank for rebuilding neighborhoods. Right now, short-term tax revenue collection reigns supreme over the long-term benefits of putting properties into the land bank.”

“Pennsylvania’s land banks are moving properties back on the market and into the hand of new, responsible owners,” Winnie Barton, Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania land bank program manager told the committee. “The new system is working.”

The committee is currently reviewing legislation passed by the Senate that would expand the land banks program by giving redevelopment authorities the same powers. Several testifiers at the hearing spoke out against Senate Bill 667, including a nationally known expert who worked closely with legislators to create Pennsylvania’s Land Bank Law.

“You can use both tools in Pennsylvania,” said Emory University School of Law Professor Frank Alexander. “My concern is that when you blend them, you reduce the power of both.”

Committee members also heard about urban farming projects in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and how land banks could provide similar opportunities in other communities.

“I have a sincere interest in urban green space and productive use of such space in our cities for local food production, gardening, farm-to-table and other potential agricultural opportunities,” Keller said.

A video recording of the hearing is available for viewing at pahousegop.com.

Representative Mark Keller
86th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Andy Briggs
717.260.6474
abriggs@pahousegop.com
RepKeller.com / Facebook.com/RepKeller

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