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Concerns About Land Bank Legislation Aired in City Council

Pittsburgh City Council had their first opportunity to discuss Deb Gross’s proposed land bank legislation as a group on Wednesday. The bill was first introduced on Jan. 14.

“This is a transformative proposition for the city, and we’ve had many positive comments already upon its first proposal,” Gross said. “I’ve been able to talk with most of the councilpeople just briefly about this proposed legislation, and we have a great many community organizations that are eager to come in to further inform us in a post-agenda (meeting).”

The legislation would streamline the process of selling off tax-delinquent properties that have made their way into the city’s hands, a process that can currently take one to two years.

Though Councilman Ricky Burgess himself introduced land bank legislation in 2012, he expressed serious reservations about the bill, saying that most of the properties that would fall under land bank control are in poor neighborhoods, concentrated in his and Councilman Daniel Lavelle’s districts.

“The biggest slum landlord in the city of Pittsburgh is the city of Pittsburgh,” said Burgess. “Let’s be honest, and we have a new administration, so I hope things change, but for the last 30 years, these communities have not been a priority.”

Lavelle said he was concerned about handing over too much power to a non-elected administrative board, which is what Gross’s legislation proposes. He said Philadelphia recently created a land bank, but that they gave the district councilperson final say over all sales.

“So when sales were occurring in their district, they still had to come back to the councilperson,” said Lavelle. “As currently construed, this would remove the councilperson from any decision-making process for the disposition of land.”

Theresa Kail-Smith echoed comments from Burgess and Lavelle, saying she wanted to see a greater diversity of geographic representation on the land bank board.

“I think that there’s a way to address our concerns and make sure the land bank is beneficial to our residents and to our communities,” said Kail-Smith. “I do think that council needs to have a say on this, and I think the board needs to be geographically equal.”

City Council will hold a public hearing and a post-agenda meeting to hear from the community on the land bank issue. Those meetings have not yet been scheduled.

Nearly a quarter of the city’s vacant properties — highlighted in red — are in Burgess’s district.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.
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