Philadelphia, January 25, 2018 – Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) opened the second half of the Fiscal Year 2018 legislative session by offering legislation to spur redevelopment of vacant or tax-delinquent properties and to strengthen traffic and pedestrian safety mechanisms as part of the City’s Vision Zero initiative.
With the consent of Philadelphia voters, the Home Rule Charter would be amended under Council President Clarke’s legislation to empower the Philadelphia Land Bank, which has the potential to be the largest municipal land bank in the nation, to more effectively initiate acquisition of publicly owned, abandoned, or delinquent properties for redevelopment to improve neighborhoods and increase the supply of affordable housing.
In the Land Bank’s four years of existence, it has acquired just 66 properties for redevelopment, an average of little more than one acquisition per month and a far slower pace than land banks in much smaller Commonwealth municipalities. Dozens of properties designated by both the Land Bank and Administration for redevelopment have instead been sold off to outside parties.
Instead of empowering the Land Bank to create and implement a strategic plan to acquire and re-purpose properties, as intended by Commonwealth and municipal statutes, the Revenue Department has exercised veto power over whether properties sought by the Land Bank can be acquired. This has resulted in the diversion of properties that the Land Bank had sought to acquire for equitable development in gentrifying neighborhoods. Further, the Administration has repeatedly neglected to honor its own agreements with the Land Bank by never following through on assigning liens and instead selling them off.
“The Land Bank was intended to play a pivotal role in our strategic, comprehensive approach to equitable growth and development in Philadelphia,” Council President Clarke said. “But time and again, properties identified by community representatives for affordable housing or public parks and gardens have instead been sent straight to Sheriff Sale to be snatched up by high-end developers and do-nothing speculators. I believe most Philadelphians want fair and equitable development and for their neighbors to have access to affordable, healthy housing. I am confident that this amendment to the City Charter will be approved in the November 6th election.”
In addition to bypassing the Land Bank to sell off public property, the City has overseen an alarming 1,200% increase in tax lien foreclosure filings over the last several years. Foreclosure filings have been concentrated in low-income census tracts, where homes are often residents’ only asset of value. Last year, Council President Clarke offered legislation authorizing creation of a tax foreclosure prevention program to assist vulnerable homeowners, which is currently being implemented with the assistance of affordable housing advocates.
Earlier this week, Council President Clarke highlighted the City’s poor maintenance of property records in the Philadelphia Inquirer as yet more cause to reassess the Administration’s land disposition efforts.
Also on Thursday, Council President Clarke called for public hearings to explore options for establishing Public Safety Officers to improve traffic law enforcement, increase safety for pedestrians and non-motor vehicle users, and reduce congestion as part of the City’s Vision Zero and anti-climate change initiatives.
“While Philadelphia is right to champion strong economic growth and new construction, we must be mindful of the quality-of-life issues that result. Residents in rapidly improving neighborhoods are struggling with increased vehicular traffic, street and sidewalk closures that accompany construction, and traffic signs or signal patterns that have not kept pace with population growth,” Council President Clarke said. “I believe more officers on the street will, just by their presence, encourage more drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians to better mind the rules and respect one another. I look forward to a thorough review and assessment of how other cities approach street safety, and I encourage the public to participate and help us get this right.”
The Land Bank and public safety officer resolutions and ordinance are listed below:
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Council President Darrell L. Clarke is serving his second term as the President of Philadelphia City Council. He represents Philadelphia’s 5th Council District. More information at phlcouncil.com/DarrellClarke