Thursday, September 17, 2009

Land Banks

One thing for certain, when you sustain an injury, undergo surgery and your leg is placed in an immobilizer, you have more time to read all those books you had been planning on reading. I recently took the opportunity to read Philip Myers, American Rust, a work of fiction that takes place in the Mon Valley. Myers’ description of decaying communities, abandoned factories, deteriorating houses and vacant buildings is far more real than fiction. A drive through many, many communities in Fayette County and in Southwestern Pennsylvania is an eye opener to any visitor. The number of dilapidated homes and abandoned structures increases daily. These abandoned structures may offer sanctuary for drug dealers and criminals and substantially devalue neighboring properties and entire neighborhoods. Business districts are polluted with dilapidated buildings that are unsightly and hazardous. People living in these communities are acutely aware of the problems, but no one is able to offer any real and practical solutions.
Obviously, Fayette County is not the first area of the country to experience economic decline and the resulting deterioration and abandonment of homes, structures and factories. Other communities and other areas of the country have also suffered as the "rust belt" continues to expand both geographically and in severity.

One plausible solution is a Land Bank, a public authority created to manage and possibly develop tax foreclosed properties. Land Banks have been a necessity in many major American cities where property vacancies run as high as Fifteen (15%) Percent. Obviously, vacant and abandoned properties do not produce sufficient tax revenue, if any, and have an extremely negative impact. Most are used for illegal activity and depreciate neighboring properties, further stressing local governments. Residents feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods and are constantly reminded that their homes, their life investments, are being depreciated in value due to the abandoned and deteriorating structures in their communities.

A Land Bank using government funds, grants and charitable contributions can acquire abandoned properties, demolish them and revert the properties back to usable condition. The now vacant land can be transferred to adjoining property owners for yard extensions or garage construction or, if large enough, for owner-occupied home development. The properties will no longer be available for illicit purposes and will certainly help to rid the neighborhood of the criminal activity. In addition, the now usable properties will create reinvestment in the community, revitalize the otherwise blighted neighborhoods and at the least "clean up" the deteriorated business districts. Such action will benefit all levels of government including the local municipality and school district. The removal of public nuisances will assist in crime prevention and the promotion of economic development.

The time for action is now! A summit of government leaders, municipal, county, state and federal along with church leaders, community leaders and business leaders must be held. The primary purpose of the summit would be the development of a County Land Bank with a specific and stated purpose of acquiring dilapidated and abandoned structures. If legislation is needed, state officials must act promptly. The situation is so acute that the typical governmental red tape and bureaucratic haggling cannot be tolerated. The Bank must be established through a unified effort and the work of elimination of blight must begin immediately.

Submitted by:

James T. Davis, Esquire

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