Look around Philly. There are thousands of abandoned buildings and vacant lots.
On Dec. 11, City Council passed legislation aimed at putting those properties into the hands of families and businesses so they’ll add to Philadelphia’s treasury rather than drain it.
The strategic land bank plan sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez (D-7th dist.) passed 15–0.
It’s not a scheme to change the cityscape overnight; it wasn’t developed quickly, either. Land bank legislation has been discussed for about 25 years, the councilwoman told a Frankford gathering two days before the council vote. The goal of the land bank plan is to remove blight from the city over the next 10 years, the councilwoman said.
Some big numbers explain the need for a plan.
The city owns about 10,000 vacant buildings and lots, the councilwoman told residents Dec. 9 at Sankofa Freedom Academy on Church Street. There are 30,000 other properties that are vacant lots or vacant buildings, many of which are tax-delinquent. The city is spending $20 million to take care of vacant properties each year, she said.
One of the land bank plan’s big ideas is to put vacant city-owned properties together with vacant tax-delinquent properties in what the councilwoman called “assemblages.” The banked properties could be made available to builders who are looking for tracts of 10 or 15 parcels to develop.
The state legislature passed measures introduced by state Rep. John Taylor, the councilwoman said, that will help the city quickly take possession of tax-delinquent properties. The city’s land bank bill was passed in June. The measure passed Dec. 11 sets up the plan to implement it.
That plan won’t take houses from homeowners, Sanchez said. Also, the city doesn’t want to hold on to properties, she said. It doesn’t make sense to acquire 30,000 properties and add them to the 10,000 the city already has, she said.
“We want to actively market land bank properties … We want to pick them up and then get them out,” the councilwoman said.
Other goals of the plan is push green space use, she said, and for residents to pick up vacant lots near their homes or to buy individual properties and restore them.
The city wants to be careful about this, she said. Someone who gets a good deal to acquire a city property that might require $20,000 to renovate has to demonstrate he or she has the money to do the job.
“We want to turn properties over to people,” the councilwoman said, “but they have to show they have the capacity to turn the property around.”
Another aspect, she said, is that the city wants people to apply online to buy city property.
But no matter what deal people make to take over city land, the councilwoman said, they have to understand they have to go through the city’s zoning process and do things according to code.
For example, if somebody buys a property with the intention of making it a three-apartment building, the buyer has to be sure the property has the zoning for three apartments.
Other aspects of the land bank plan, the councilwoman said, are:
• promoting equitable community development
• building longterm economic vitality
• reinforcing open space
• making the process clear and transparent. ••