So much happens in the background that impacts on the ground work. This section talks about a few broader land use policies and efforts happening in the community and how they impact work at the microscale.
A land bank is a public authority created to efficiently handle acquisition, maintenance, and sale of vacant properties. Land banks have clear streamlined procedures to clear title, transfer properties to responsible owners, and acquire tax delinquent properties without risking their sale to speculators. Land banks are a best practice that more than 75 governments have adopted, including Cleveland, Louisville, Atlanta, and Genesee County, MI.
Why do we need a land bank?
Vacant land is harming our neighborhoods and costing the City, School District, residents and businesses tens of millions of dollars each year. Available land should be one of a community’s greatest assets, but that is often prevented by a broken vacant land management system. Ownership of 20,000+ vacant properties is shared by multiple agencies, each with a different, long and confusing sales procedure as well as numerous absent private owners.
How will a land bank benefit us?
A land bank will support the revitalization of communities by making it faster, easier and cheaper for neighbors, builders, community groups and investors to return vacant land to productive reuse. At the same time, a land bank will make it harder for speculators to gain ownership of vacant land. A land bank also will encourage owners to pay taxes and maintain their vacant property under threat of foreclosure.
What are the key tenants of land banking?
- Strategic links to the tax collection and foreclosure process
- Operations scaled in response to local land use goals
- Policy-driven, transparent, and publicly accountable transactions
- Engagement with residents and other community stakeholders
- Alignment with other local or regional tools and community programs
What is Pittsburgh’s Land Bank Mission?
To return unproductive real estate to beneficial reuse through an equitable, transparent, public process, thereby revitalizing neighborhoods in line with community goals and needs. The Land Bank is intended to serve as the depository for unused, inactive real estate held in the names of public entities. The Land Bank shall strive to support socially and economically diverse communities and strengthen the City’s tax base.
To stay up to date with the City of Pittsburgh’s Land Bank Authority and more general information about land banking including Frequently Asked Questions, click here.
Community Land Trust
A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit, community-based corporation with a place-based membership, a democratically elected board, and a charitable commitment to the use and stewardship of land on behalf of the local population. CLTs typically retain permanent ownership of land and lease it to individuals or organizations that own the improvements upon the land, such as residences, commercial buildings, and agricultural or recreational facilities. The CLT model offers a way to retain ownership of land stewarded by and for the community, so that the highest or best use of property can remain community-defined, community-controlled, and adaptable to changing conditions. (Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, April 2014)
Although CLTs have focused on the development and stewardship of affordable housing in recent decades, they are beginning to diversify in models to own and maintain vacant land for other uses such as farming, commercial, etc.
In 2014, a group of representatives from various land management and community development agencies, called the Community Land Trust Exploratory Committee, formed to study the feasibility of creating a CLT model for Allegheny County. The working group consisted of representatives from PCRG, Grounded, Grow Pittsburgh, Allegheny Land Trust, Lawrenceville Corp., Kingsley Association, Homewood Consensus Group, Larimer Consensus Group, ARTEZ and more.
The exploratory committee assessed the feasibility of creating and sustaining a regional CLT strategy and identified the core business planning assumptions under which the CLT initiative would be established and operated. The exploratory committee concluded that a regional CLT would serve the communities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County well and if funding becomes available, then a regional CLT should be pursued.
While work continues on establishing a regional CLT, numerous neighborhood CLT efforts are being pursued across Pittsburgh; including Garfield, the Hill District, and Lawrenceville. The Lawrenceville Community Land Trust broke ground on the first CLT homes in Western Pennsylvania in July 2017.
For more information on Community Land Trusts, check out the following resources:
In the case of ALCOSAN, the Consent Decree is an agreement between the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) for ALCOSAN to achieve compliance with the Clean Water Act during periods of wet weather. The Consent Decree is a binding, legal document that is certified by a federal judge and therefore recognized by the court.
To comply with the Consent Decree, ALCOSAN must meet a series of requirements for planning, design and construction, operation and permitting. These requirements include the following two steps to ensure the project is in compliance with the Consent Decree:
- For the sanitary sewer system (SSO), ALCOSAN will design and construct conveyance, storage, and treatment facilities that eliminate all sanitary sewer overflows, while also capturing and treating flows equal to all of the sanitary sewer system flow that is generated in the regional collection system.
- For the combined sewer system (CSO), ALCOSAN has two design and construction options: The first option provides for the design and construction of conveyance, storage, and treatment facilities that capture and treat all peak dry-weather flow in the regional collection system and all wet-weather flow in the regional combined sewer system. The second option allows ALCOSAN to treat all peak dry-weather flow while capturing at least 85 percent of all combined sewer system flow and treating all wet-weather flow with the best practicable technology.
The Consent Decree requires a comprehensive regional planning effort unlike anything ALCOSAN has undertaken in the past, and ALCOSAN’s draft Wet Weather Plan represents the largest public works project ever completed in Allegheny County.
The use of land conservatorship was made possible in November 2008 by the Pennsylvania Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, also known as Act 135. The act was established in an attempt to combat the economic deterioration and public health hazards presented by vacant properties, particularly in Pittsburgh’s oldest communities. While it does not grant outright land ownership, conservatorship allows an appointed conservator to act as the custodian of a vacated property with the potential for future acquisition. The conservatorship process includes four steps: organizing a conservatorship case, initiating the case, appointing a conservator, and terminating the conservatorship.
Organizing a conservatorship case: Must indicate that property is abandoned (all must be true upon filing),
- Vacant for 12 months or more
- No active marketing of property 60 days prior to a filing for conservatorship
- No foreclosure action(s)
- Under same ownership for six months or more
and blighted (3 of 9 criteria must be true upon filing),
- Evidence that property is a public nuisance
- Need for substantial rehabilitation
- Evidence that property is unfit for human habitation
- Evidence of fire risk/hazards
- Subject to unauthorized entry
- Evidence of “attractive nuisance”
- Evidence of vermin, debris, uncut vegetation or physical deterioration
- Evidence of negative economic impact to nearby properties
- Evidence of use for illicit purposes
Initiating the case: Filing a petition that includes at least the sworn statement, if not all of the following,
- A sworn statement that, to the best of the petitioner’s knowledge, the property meets the eligibility requirements for conservatorship discussed in Section 5(d)
- Records of citations against the owner for municipal code violations and/or public nuisance declarations
- A recommendation for a conservator
- A preliminary plan detailing costs, funding sources, rehabilitation plans or a recommendation for demolition; all activities that will aid in bringing the property into compliance with municipal codes
- Mortgages, liens, and other charges to the property
- Filing a notice of lis pendens
- Notifications of owners, political subdivisions, and lienholders
Appointing a conservator: Parties of interest who are eligible to pursue land conservatorship are,
- Lienholder and/or other secured creditor of the owner
- Resident or business owner within 2,000 feet of the building
- Nonprofit corporation, including a redevelopment authority, located in the city and which has participated in a project within a five-mile radius of the location of the property
- Municipality or school district in which the property is located
The powers of the conservator include, among others,
- Take possession and control of the building and all property subject to the conservatorship action
- Contract for repair and maintenance of the property
- Collect outstanding amounts receivable
- Exercise all authority that an owner of the building would have to improve, maintain, and otherwise manage the building, including the extent to which rehabilitation will satisfy the goals of the conservatorship
With their powers, conservators are expected to act in the role of caretaker and rehabilitator in the absence of an able or willing propery owner. While in possession of the property, the conservator shall:
- Maintain the building, keeping it safe and insured
- Use all earnings from the building in a manner consistent with this act
- Develop a final plan of abatement consistent with the reasoning for filing the petition
- Implement the court approved final plan
- Submit an annual status report to the court and parties in action detailing how the final plan is progressing
Terminating the conservatorship: If everything has gone as planned, where there was once a blighted property, there is now a structure or lot that is safe and beneficial to the community. The conservator will file a petition to end the conservatorship through public or private sale and the court will rule based on terms and conditions the court sets forth. Other grounds for termination are,
- Parties in interest have intervened in the case and assured the courts that the conditions of the property leading up to the petition filing have been or will be abated. This includes reimbursing the petitioner and conservator for all expenses incurred regarding the property
- Conservator has sold the property and proceeds from the sale have been distributed under the guidelines of the act, Section 9(d).
- Conservator is unable to fulfill their duties with regards to the petition and final plan.