Fighting blight in Pennsylvania: State House of Representatives passes land bank bill

In Pennsylvania today, more than 300,000 properties stand vacant. These properties cost municipalities millions of dollars each year in maintenance costs and even more in lost revenue. In Philadelphia alone – which has some 40,000 vacant properties – the City pays $20 million each year just to maintain those properties.

Last week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives took a major step toward turning the state’s vacant properties back into homes and businesses. On Wednesday the House passed HB 1682, a bill that would allow counties and municipalities in Pennsylvania to create land banks. Land banks are entities that can hold and manage vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties, making it faster, easier and cheaper for prospective new owners to purchase these properties and get them back into productive re-use.

If signed into law, HR 1682 would help reduce the costs borne by cities and towns across the state, and it would also provide substantial economic benefits to communities by improving property values and reversing cycles of neighborhood blight and decline.

Supporters in the state, including the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania and our coalition partner 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania point out that the legislation itself is beneficial in several ways:

  • Permissive: Gives local governments the ability to create land banks, but does not require them to do so.
  • Flexible: Extends maximum control over the creation and operations of land banks to local governments. Each land bank can be specifically tailored to the needs of its community.
  • Revenue neutral: There is no state appropriation in the bill. Land banks in Pennsylvania would be self-funding after initial start up.

Land banks are gaining momentum nationwide as a tool with a proven track record for revitalizing neighborhoods and getting delinquent properties back on local tax rolls. Today there are over 80 land banks or land bank initiatives across the country, with more forming every year in all types of communities and in every region of the nation. New York State is among the most recent to pass legislation enabling local governments to establish land banks. Smart Growth America is proud to support these and similar land bank efforts across the country.

Photo: John Coltrane’s former home in Philadelphia is flanked by three vacant properties. Image by Flickr user Tony the Misfit.