The Philadelphia Land Bank- the dialogue continues

Previously in this blog, I profiled the Philadelphia Land Bank. Since that post, the Land Bank’s progress has continued apace. The Land Bank’s strategic plan was approved by City Council in December of 2014 and a Board of Directors has been appointed. More recently, the Land Bank issued its first Request for Proposals for the development of a contiguous group of available properties on the 1600 block of North Bodine Street. Nonetheless, the Land Bank remains controversial. Recent competing articles in Philadelphia Magazine online highlight the differences of opinion regarding the Land Bank.

The January 9, 2015 article “INSIDE TAKE: The Land Bank Is A Bad Idea,” by Jay McCalla (available at http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/01/09/land-bank-bad-idea-insider/) (last visited Feb. 2, 2015), argued that the Land Bank is nothing more than redundant bureaucracy and is dependent on City Council for its success. McCalla is the former Deputy Managing Director of Operations for the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. McCalla argues in part that, since his former organization was considered underfunded with $300 million, the Land Bank’s budget ($4 million in this fiscal year) is insufficient to carry out its purposes in acquiring privately-owned tax-delinquent properties, sorting them, assessing them, or disposing of them “at a pace to have any effect at all on abandonment levels.” He argues that the Land Bank will duplicate the current efforts of the Redevelopment Authority, Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, and Department of Public Property. He also points out that City Council’s members must approve all transfers of properties into the Land Bank from their districts to preserve councilmanic prerogative, arguing that “this guarantees that development will remain politically driven.” In short, McCalla argues that the Land Bank is folly.

Beth McConnell’s January 22, 2015 response opposing McCalla’s article, “Land Bank Defeatism Solves Nothing” (available athttp://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/01/22/land-bank-fight-blight-defeatism/) (last visited Feb. 2, 2015), provides an interesting counterpoint. McConnell is the Policy Director for the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. Her view is, in part, that the Land Bank is not simply another bureaucratic agency to hold land, but is instead a new tool to quickly and efficiently access abandoned and tax-delinquent properties throughout the City, whether privately or publicly owned. Once in the Land Bank, the properties could be held and transferred out – in particular to owners who propose to use the property to serve a public purpose or implement communities’ plans. McConnell also argues that the Land Bank can and will work together with City Council to transfer properties into the Land Bank, and that Philadelphia’s property values are skyrocketing, even in neighborhoods considered undesirable just a few years ago. In McConnell’s view, the Land Bank is poised to take on both new and old tasks in a streamlined way.

Clearly the Land Bank exists; clearly it is gaining inventory. Just as clearly, though, the success of the Land Bank depends on factors outside its control – most pressingly, quickly increasing the volume of its inventory. Such a large problem makes the Land Bank look to some like a big risk that may not pay off.

What’s my opinion? I think it will succeed, but not overnight. It’ll take City Council and City voters to gain trust in the process and the agency. My question is: will we give the Land Bank enough time to thrive?

For more information about the Land Bank or other Philadelphia real estate issues, contact us.

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