Transforming Vacant Lots | Project HOME

Transforming Vacant Lots


Today’s guest blog post is by Garrett O'Dwyer, Policy & Communications Associate for the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. PACDC is a close ally and partner of Project HOME in the ongoing struggle to expand affordable housing in our city.  

The signs of Philadelphia’s vacant property epidemic are everywhere. We see them in forlorn, crumbling facades of blighted buildings or trash strewn vacant lots scarring the urban fabric; we see them in increased crime and decreased property values; and we see them in our school district and public services struggling under the weight of so many tax-delinquent properties contributing nothing while devouring scarce public resources for a bare minimum of maintenance. Despite recent gains, after decades of losing both population and industry,

Philadelphia now has over 40,000 such vacant properties. Of these, about 25 percent are owned by four different public agencies with four different standards of accountability, and four different sets of rules governing the process of getting property. The result has been a system that is slow to put publicly held properties back into productive reuse – at the current rate it would take the City 100 years to dispose of its properties. This creates a significant burden on those seeking to develop affordable or market rate housing, new businesses looking to expand, communities coming together to create a garden, or a homeowner looking for a side-yard. In recent years a wide range of advocates has been calling for reform of the City’s vacant property system.

After looking at best practices employed in other cities and hearing from national experts, momentum has been building to adopt a land bank model in Philadelphia. A land bank is a government agency that would simplify our current tangled bureaucracy by establishing one owner of publicly owned vacant property, one inventory of vacant property, one process to transfer it, one standard of maintenance, and one standard for enforcement. A land bank would also give the City new tools to deal with privately held vacant and tax-delinquent properties. It would provide a way of maximizing scarce public resources to revitalize communities and increase our tax base for schools and city services.

The Philly Land Bank Alliance formed to advocate for the creation of a Land Bank in Philadelphia and, in March 2013, Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez introduced legislation to create a Philadelphia Land Bank. Members of the Alliance represent a broad spectrum of stakeholders, from neighborhood advocates, community development corporations, market rate developers, advocates for small business, green space and food access. Uniting these disparate interests is a belief that a predictable, efficient, transparent, accountable, and equitable land bank is an essential part of the significant reforms necessary to place our vacant properties into productive reuse.

These values have resonated with Philadelphians and now hundreds upon hundreds of individuals, nonprofits, and small businesses from across our City have signed on in support of a land bank. Now, after months of hard work, a national conference, and significant media attention, City Council has scheduled a hearing on the Philadelphia Land Bank Bill. We’re going to keep up the pressure and make sure the votes are there in Council to pass a predictable, efficient, transparent, accountable, and equitable Land Bank. We’ve seen that together we can make an impact – that we can create meaningful change to improve our neighborhoods and begin to eradicate blight in every community. But we can’t do it without you.

We need you to Save the Date: Monday, October 28th, 2013 at 10 AM in City Hall, Room 400. We need you to turn out with your friends and colleagues to show City Council that reforming our broken vacant property system is important to you and critical to the long-term health of our city. Second, we're looking for your vacant property nightmares. Tell us your stories about the challenges you faced in trying to acquire publicly or privately held vacant land. Tell us about a vacant property that hasn't been kept up, that has attracted crime and trash, or has brought down the block. Tell us about a vacant property that has harmed you and your community - we want the full story.

Click here to tell your story, so that we can share your experience with City Council members and let them know that this is urgent, and that we need a Land Bank NOW.