The recently enacted state Land Bank Act will allow municipalities in Pennsylvania to take over blighted and condemned properties in order to repurpose the land.

Under the law, the local governments will be able to cancel liens on properties and wipe out bank foreclosures to allow developers to buy and turn around the properties. The ultimate goal is to improve distressed neighborhoods across the state.

Currently, Pennsylvania has about 300,000 vacant properties, including approximately 40,000 in Philadelphia alone. The properties cost taxpayers in that city about $20 million each year, according to the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.

Previously, municipalities had a difficult time clearing tax liens or getting in touch with absentee owners. The new law will replace old laws that have proved a challenge for communities that want to get rid of blighted neighborhoods.

Part of the lure of attracting builders is piecing together enough parcels to create a significant development, and this law will help. Land banking could help to free properties owned by slumlords for redevelopment. The mayor of Pittsburgh said that putting together land banks will do just that. Cities that want to put together an independent body to oversee land banks must have at least 10,000 residents.

One Pittsburgh city councilman already has introduced legislation to his colleagues that would create the Pittsburgh Land Bank. Such legislation, if passed by the full council, would assist in transforming the city’s lower-income neighborhoods, he said.

Leaders said they see potential to use the new law in rural areas as well as urban ones. It could make new housing available in less-populated lands to lower-income workers.

Property owners must tend to their holdings to make sure they do not fall into blight. If all owners did so, there would be no need for the Land Bank Act. However, since that is not the case, the new law can help to turn around some of the state’s less desirable areas.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “New Pa. law aimed at helping areas overcome blight,” Jeremy Boren, Nov. 11, 2012