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Philadelphia Land Bank draws support, criticism

Mixed responses of hope and skepticism have surrounded the ordinance that created Philadelphia's new Land Bank, which is aimed at cleaning up and repurposing the city's roughly 40,000 underused or blighted properties. Philadelphia is currently the largest U.S. city to establish a land bank, and other cities with major real estate problems are undoubtedly looking to Philadelphia as a possible model.

Critics of the Land Bank point to the failed or unwieldy programs adopted in other cities, such as Cleveland, where legislators were required to approve each acquisition and disposition of property. However, supporters refer to successful land bank efforts in places like Flint, Michigan, where some of the city's worst properties have been transformed for the better after a land bank made acquisitions.

The ordinance that established the Philadelphia Land Bank includes a provision requiring that all sales be approved by the City Council, and there is concern that if the council's approach is too hands-on, then the program could prove ineffective. If handled smoothly, however, the Land Bank may provide an easier way for developers to acquire properties.

One aspect of the new ordinance is meant to give developers one place, the Land Bank, to shop for buildings and land. In the past, vacant properties in the city have been listed with numerous agencies, complicating matters for potential investors.

According to the ordinance, the Land Bank will also be able to acquire vacant properties from private owners who are behind on taxes.

To learn more about either protecting a property from a tax sale, or acquiring tax-delinquent property, please visit our real estate website.

Source: The New York Times, "Philadelphia Forges Plan to Rebuild From Decay," Jon Hurdle, Dec. 31, 2013

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