Philly Council to get bills on improving vacant land

Posted: March 08, 2013

Council President Darrell L. Clarke plans to introduce a package of five bills Thursday designed to quickly move vacant, delinquent, and city-owned land back into productive use - and back to the tax rolls.

Some of the ideas have been discussed previously, and Clarke has introduced similar bills in the past, including one to establish "development districts" in distressed neighborhoods.

But Clarke said he expected broad support for these measures now that the city was moving to a new property tax system and elected officials were seeking ways to lower the tax burden on homeowners.

About 40,000 parcels sit vacant in the city, about a quarter of them owned by public agencies. About 17,000 of the privately owned parcels are tax-delinquent, according to a consultant's report, and the city spends about $20 million maintaining its stable of parcels.

In some cases, Clarke said, he would be willing to have the city virtually give away vacant parcels to bring them back to taxpaying use.

"Because right now, we're getting no revenue from them," he said.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez has been working for more than four years to create a land bank that would consolidate publicly owned properties and seek to acquire others. The land bank also could sell parcels at low or nominal prices.

The state gave cities the right to create land banks late last year, and the Nutter administration has been moving to house the land bank within the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp.

Clarke said he was supportive of the land bank, which still must pass Council, and said his proposals were "no-brainers."

"However we ultimately do the land bank, I think that the board of the land bank would be 150 percent behind this," he said.

Sánchez said Clarke's proposals were "synergistic" with the land bank and its goals of "redeveloping our neighborhoods and contributing to our tax base."

Clarke's bills would:

Establish development districts with high levels of vacancy, public ownership, and tax delinquency. The city would be allowed to discount properties from 50 percent to 90 percent if the buyer agreed to start construction within six months and finish within two years.

Allow the city to provide incentives, such as flexible zoning and design standards and expedited permitting, to projects that agree to make housing available to residents whose income is 120 percent or less of the area's median income.

Create a program that would allow the buyers of vacant parcels at sheriff's sale to get back half the proceeds collected by the city if construction is completed within 18 months.

Allow the city to convey properties for nominal amounts to projects that create affordable housing or employment for low- and moderate-income residents.

Create a program that essentially gives land to buyers whose income does not exceed 150 percent of area median income if they build a home on the parcel and live there for at least five years.

Contact Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or, or follow on Twitter @troyjgraham.

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