Legislation has been introduced again in Harrisburg that would smooth the path for the Pittsburgh Land Bank to more quickly acquire properties.
The land bank was launched in 2014 with the vision of acquiring vacant properties and getting them back on the open market for redevelopment. It has only taken hold of a few properties since its founding, faced constant turnover in leadership and is mired in negotiations over key agreements with the county, city and city school district on how to remove tax lien liabilities from properties.
A crucial roadblock for the land bank is the process of acquiring land, which currently is done through city treasurer’s sales. Additional legal action is then required to remove old tax lien liabilities so a property’s title can become “clean” again, further delaying redevelopment. These issues were discussed by county executive candidates at a forum held last week.
State law gives an expedited process using county sheriff’s sales to Philadelphia, and the legislation would seek to bring that to Pittsburgh and the Tri-COG Land Bank, which operates in the county’s eastern suburbs and Monongahela Valley. This type of sale would in one action both transfer the property to the land bank and also clear any tax lien liabilities.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, introduced a similar bill in 2021, and it received a unanimous vote of approval in the Senate before getting stymied in the House. Fontana told the Union Progress that he hopes the House, which is now controlled by Democrats, will pass the bill, and he’ll then lobby Senate leaders to do the same.
“We’re just not completely clear yet how it’s going to work out,” he said.
Fontana, who was a board member of the land bank for several years, said he saw “no real overall effort” there under Bill Peduto’s mayoralty and wants to give Mayor Ed Gainey a chance to reform the land bank.
“If this bill gets passed, it might help spur the interest there and efforts to make those commitments that are needed,” he said.
State Rep. Emily Kinkead, D-North Side, is sponsoring the legislation in the House and told the Union Progress that the county’s House members raised it as a priority while meeting with Lt. Gov. Austin Davis.
“These are bills that are really just the 80% of governing in the middle, that I think that we can get moving pretty easily” she said.