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December 09, 2015

Philadelphia Land Bank adds first properties

Mayor Nutter calls land bank a crucial tool for expediting development in the city

The Philadelphia Land Bank gained its first 150 properties Wednesday when the Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. electronically transferred the deeds.

About 650 PHDC properties are expected to be transferred to the land bank by the end of the year, including another 75 this week.

Mayor Michael Nutter heralded the news at an afternoon press conference that included City Council President Darrell Clarke, Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez and other officials influential in creating the land bank. Nutter hailed the land bank as a crucial tool for expediting the sale of city properties to private developers.

"It is a very hot real estate market in the city right now," Nutter said. "The level of development taking place in Philly right now is unprecedented in recent times. ... Now, with this tool coming online and the access to these properties — we would have liked to have had this about a decade ago."

RELATED ARTICLE: Philadelphia Land Bank sets targets for thousands of vacant lots

Established in 2013, the land bank seeks to strategically clear the titles of vacant, tax-delinquent lots and convert them into affordable housing, urban agriculture, green infrastructure and new housing.

Since its creation, the land bank has reviewed the deeds of thousands of properties, fixing problems with the titles and descriptions and clearing liens in preparation of transferring the properties to new owners, interim Executive Director Nicholas J. Scafidi said. Its next step is to identify potential owners. The first sales are expected to take place within the first half of 2016.

"The land bank is off to a running start, and we're building momentum," Scafidi said. "We're looking forward to moving more properties into, and more importantly, out of the Land Bank in 2016."

City Council also aims to transfer another 883 city-owned properties to the land bank via the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

There are some 8,700 publicly-owned vacant properties in Philadelphia. Clarke praised the transfer of the PHDC properties, but noted there are many more city properties that can be moved into the Land Bank. 

"If we get those properties back on the tax roll, it will actually produce some revenue," Clarke said. "This is very significant — far beyond what people think."

The land bank does not own the properties, but serves as a point agency for purchasing properties from the city. It has developed a strategic plan to strengthen development within the city's myriad neighborhoods.

Sanchez praised the land bank as a great tool for improving development within her Seventh Councilmanic District, which has 4,100 vacant lots and 1,100 vacant structures. 

Sanchez said the strategic scope of the land bank offers communities an opportunity to focus on the development they want in their neighborhoods, rather than what they don't want.

"Those neighborhoods and the blight that is caused by the vacancy and our lack of action costs everyone," Sanchez said. "This is one more tool in the toolbox that we have created."