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Development & Transportation
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City Seeks To Reinvigorate Land Bank Effort

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
Diamonte Walker become the head of the city's Land Bank Friday, a move officials hope will help revive the agency

The Pittsburgh Land Bank has banked almost no land since it was created six years ago. While it was created with the hope that it could facilitate reinvestment by quickly acquiring and clearing the title for vacant land, it was able to obtain only one parcel of land. But city officials this week are making a reinvestment in the concept itself — by affiliating the land bank with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which has resources the land bank lacks.

On Friday afternoon, URA deputy director Diamonte Walker took the helm of the land bank as its executive director during  a half-hour meeting of its board, promising it would become a key player in efforts to create more affordable housing in the city.

“The PLB’s role here is to allow us to take publicly owned land and transfer it very quickly to families that are looking to build homeownership,” she said.

The Land Bank, she said, would benefit from the URA’s resources, and from the services of urban designer Greg Miller, a veteran of New York City’s Planning Department, who is set to become the land bank’s manager early next month.  

The land bank “will have to build capacity relatively quickly,” Walker added. “We lose so many assets in this city,” Walker said. “We lose them to speculation, we lose them to profiteering, and we have community groups that are working very hard to try to preserve [housing] assets, but by the time the title is cleared, the property is no longer valuable, and now are looking at demolition, when it could have been a home-ownership opportunity.

A fully-functioning land bank, she said, could also accelerate the acquisition of land through the city’s side-yard program, which allows property owners to purchase vacant land adjoining their own homes. Walker said that as things stand, it can take up to 15 years to complete such a deal.

Walker’s installation as the head of the land bank came days after the city announced “OwnPGH,” a program designed to create more affordable owner-occupied housing, in part through a $22 million bond issue to help finance mortgages for those who need the help. And the mood at Friday’s meeting was upbeat. City Councilor Ricky Burgess, who chairs the Land Bank board, said it was now “in a position to strike quickly and really be a blessing to the city, and particularly to low-income communities."

“I’m just enthusiastic about everything Diamonte had to say,” agreed board member Jamil Bey. “After six years of restarts and just frustration with this, everything she said was just what we needed to hear … because the frustration in the community is high.”