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Pittsburgh Land Bank officials say a state law change is critical to success

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Nearly a decade after Pittsburgh City Council created the Pittsburgh Land Bank, it continues to struggle. However, officials said at a board meeting Friday that 2023 could be their year.

There are more than 30,000 vacant and distressed pieces of property in the city. When City Councilor Deb Gross introduced the idea of a land bank in 2014, the hope was to begin to deal with the problem at scale. Since then, the agency has convened community meetings, created bylaws, become an affiliate entity of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, seen staff come and go, but failed to make much of a dent in returning property to active use.

Just one property is listed for sale on its website.

In order to make the land bank successful, board members and staff say two laws need to change.

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The first would allow the land bank to receive land from the city and the URA. Currently, the land bank can only transfer land out to those two entities. Pittsburgh City Council continues to debate the change.

The second is an amendment to the state municipal tax claims and liens law, or MCTLL, that would allow the Pittsburgh Land Bank to buy land at sheriff's sale. That process is quicker and results in a clear title, whereas the current use of treasurer’s sale leaves the land encumbered.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, a former land bank board member, introduced the amendment this year, but it failed to pass. The proposed amendment would also require the three taxing bodies who have a stake in land sales — the city, Allegheny County, and Pittsburgh Public Schools — to agree how to handle future tax revenue.

However, there has been some progress in getting the land bank the tools it needs. The agency will not be required to pay realty transfer tax on the land it sells, and it can now participate in conservatorship cases.