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Pittsburgh councilwoman introduces bill designed to reduce blight

| Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, 12:24 p.m.

Pittsburgh would move to take control of blighted properties and market them to new owners under “land bank” legislation proposed on Tuesday by Councilwoman Deb Gross.

Under the program, the city would acquire abandoned properties and sell them to people willing to improve them, Gross said. Pittsburgh has more than 35,000 blighted properties, she said.

“These are properties in the city's repository of unclaimed properties,” Gross said. “We're not doing anything with them.”

State legislation passed in 2012 permits land banks to clear titles of tax liens and bank foreclosures so properties are more attractive to developers.

Gross said the program would not cost the city any money. The land bank would be a separate entity and have the ability to borrow and raise money.

Gross said council and Mayor Bill Peduto would appoint a board to oversee the land bank.

Start-up funding is one of the biggest hurdles for land banks, according to Will Gordon, redevelopment coordinator for Dauphin County, which last year became the first entity in the state to create a land bank.

He said county commissioners gave the Dauphin County land bank a $250,000 grant from state gambling money to get started.

“That got us through legal fees and hopefully the cost of the first properties we're going to acquire,” he said.

The Dauphin program is banking on tax revenue for future funding. It requires the county, school districts and municipalities to wipe out all tax liens and give the land bank 50 percent of total tax revenue on a property for five years.

The county is concentrating on seven of its 40 municipalities as a pilot and hoping the program grows.

Gordon said the program has been a hard sell to taxing bodies, particularly school districts.

“It's very hard to convince a school district to give up any money, even if you tell them they're going to get a profit down the road,” Gordon said.

Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., a nonprofit civic group working to improve the neighborhoods, said it takes 18 months to two years to clear a property for resale. She said the time lag hampers redevelopment efforts.

“Private developers are not going to sit around for 18 to 24 months while we assemble land for them so they can do development deals with private money,” she said. “(A land bank program) brings in a quick turnaround time to have free and clear properties.”

Councilman Ricky Burgess introduced similar legislation in 2012, but it expired at the end of 2013. Gross said she believes enough members support the legislation to pass it this year.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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