Philly Land Bank may turn 2015 into year of Philadelphia’s renewal

Charles Mostoller

The future of Philadelphia is hiding in vacant lots and inside dilapidated and abandoned buildings, and it’s the Philly Land Bank that will help bring that future to fruition, says Councilman Bobby Henon.

“We have an opportunity here to rid ourselves of unused, unwanted, dilapidated property and put it to good use,” Henon said. “I think we can revolutionize the way we use our property surplus in the city.”

The goal of the Philly Land Bank bill, which passed in 2014 and will be fully implemented in 2015, was to change the process of buying and developing vacant, city-owned land.

While the city counts more than 30,000 vacant lots and abandoned buildings, it claims to own 8,000 of those properties through various city agencies. Those properties will now be consolidated into the Philly Land Bank.

The Bank’s 11-member board will then sell properties to bidders with the best plan, according to Henon. The board will also have the power to foreclose on properties and avoid Sheriff sales.

The Land Bank will also abide by community requests, preserving a community garden, for instance, Henon said.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, the Land Bank’s champion, said the new initiative can be important to the city’s changing landscape.

“The Land Bank will help us make major progress in returning vacant, tax-delinquent properties to vibrant and tax-producing reuse,” Quiñones Sánchez said. “It will allow us to consolidate publicly-owned vacant properties in one place for the first time, with one transparent set of rules.”

The Land Bank’s recently-approved strategic plan marked the first time Philadelphia has used data to assess neighborhood needs and identify redevelopment opportunities. Most importantly, it gives the city a powerful new legal tool to acquire those abandoned properties, said Quiñones Sánchez.

Dismissing misgivings by some neighborhood groups that the land bank will be just another device for gentrification, Quiñones Sánchez said it will be “a tool to benefit all residents.”

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