Clarke's plan to keep the gentrifying city affordable

Philadelphia has roughly 40,000 vacant and abandoned buildings.The land bank bill would bring together about 10,000 publicly owned properties so they can be sold and put back into productive use. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia has roughly 40,000 vacant and abandoned buildings.The land bank bill would bring together about 10,000 publicly owned properties so they can be sold and put back into productive use. ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 20, 2014

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke's plan to build 1,500 affordable units in quickly gentrifying pockets of Philadelphia could benefit from a land-policy plan he wrangled with last year.

Clarke's initiative - announced Monday and awaiting approval from Mayor Nutter - hinges on the acquisition of tax-delinquent and publicly owned vacant parcels scattered throughout the dozen identified "Opportunity Zones" outside of Center City.

The 11,000 publicly owned parcels are spread among four public agencies - the city, the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp., the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, and the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Clarke's idea is to package some of the land to make it more suitable for development.

But if Clarke is going to move as quickly as he anticipates - building all 1,500 housing units in two years - he is going to need a functioning land bank.

It could be a while until he has that luxury.

The Philadelphia Land Bank is a quasi-government agency, signed into existence by Nutter in January, meant to streamline the city's system for confronting blight by turning vacant and tax-delinquent parcels into productive properties.

The bank would take ownership of city-owned land not currently in the development pipeline and could acquire tax-delinquent properties to add to its inventory.

But the land bank is not yet operational - it needs to be incorporated and get a permanent board, a strategic plan, and a budget.

"As soon as the infamous land bank gets established . . . ," Clarke said Tuesday when asked about the feasibility of his timeline for the project.

Clarke said his plan could still be done by "traditional methods" - acquiring properties through the redevelopment authority if the land bank isn't ready by the time he launches his initiative.

"That's not going to prohibit us from moving properties," he said.

During the drafting and hearings for the land bank bill, Clarke and Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez clashed over the makeup of the bank. Clarke wanted council to have more input, from acquisition to disposition, while Quinones-Sanchez wanted less. Ultimately they settled for a version that leaned toward council prerogative.

Quinones-Sanchez, the main sponsor of the land bank bill, said Clarke's plan was a "good thing" but would need the land bank in place to make it happen.

"He's clearly identified some delinquencies in which the land bank will have to act aggressively," she said.


cvargas@phillynews.com

215-854-5520

@InqCVargas

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