Nutter signs land bank bill, says launch could take a year

Posted: January 15, 2014

Mayor Nutter signed the Philadelphia Land Bank into law Monday and predicted that it could start selling the city's vast inventory of vacant and tax-delinquent properties by year's end.

"Making it easier to find productive new uses for these properties is a critical step in revitalizing communities, attracting new residents and businesses, building household wealth, and certainly strengthening the city's finances," Nutter said.

Though the mood was celebratory, even between City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and the bill's chief sponsor, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sánchez, who often clashed over the bill's language, all parties said much work lay ahead.

The legislation creates a new governing body to manage the city's stock of vacant land, acquire tax-delinquent properties, and sell them to responsible buyers. But the creation is only the start.

Before the bank can begin selling about 9,500 city-owned and 17,000 tax-delinquent properties scattered citywide, a few things need to happen:

The land bank must be incorporated by the state.

Money must be allocated from the city's budget for the bank's operations.

A strategic plan must be developed for the land bank and then approved by Council.

City-owned properties need to be transferred to the new body by Council.

"We anticipate the land bank should be fully operational by end of this calendar year," Nutter said.

The bank's temporary 11-member board will likely meet for the first time in the next few weeks, officials said. Key decisions will follow, such as who will serve on the permanent board.

"Set forth a plan that allows for affordability, accessibility and redevelopment in every neighborhood," Quinones Sánchez said after Monday's news conference. "Center City has been the focus and development around Center City. . . . Neighborhoods are now where the focus of the city needs to be at."

Though Nutter would not say how much money he would budget for the land bank, Quinones Sánchez said $3 million to $5 million would be needed to get things running.

Initially, that will include no staff hiring. The money will pay consultants and other tools needed to quickly move properties to the bank, Quinones Sánchez said.

The bank will be a subsidiary of Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. and use some staff there and at other city agencies now handling city-owned land, including the Redevelopment Authority and Department of Public Property.

Land bank advocates such as Rick Sauer, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, said they hope that once the bank is in full swing, it will reduce the time between an expression of interest in a vacant property and a sale.

"Right now the city is transferring 100 to 200 properties per year, and we think that can be translated in the thousands," Sauer said. He says there is enough interest from private and nonprofit developers to put vacant lots to uses that could include townhouses or community gardens.

"The way the market is trending in Philadelphia. . . . it's going to be a game-changer," Sauer said.

The bill Nutter signed Monday grew out of years of meetings and negotiations among the administration, Council, community groups and others. Clarke likened the process to "making sausage . . . kind of ugly."

Supporters had wanted a more streamlined process for land decisions than the one eventually settled on by Council and voted on at its final 2013 meeting. Quinones Sánchez said the legislation was "not perfect," but that it would still work.

She said at the signing ceremony, "I believe this will be the game-changer we need in our neighborhoods."



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