A Land Bank is a quasi-governmental authority made to manage the inventory of surplus land, address the short-term ownership of vacant land and blighted structures, and clear title defects to private owners so that the land can be redeveloped. As a locally-created and locally-controlled entity, a Land Bank's single purpose is to acquire, manage, and maintain blighted, abandoned, and tax-foreclosed properties. Unlike what the term bank usually connotes, a Land Bank is not a financial institution but rather an entity that focuses on the conversion of vacant, abandoned, or tax delinquent property into productive use. Their intent is to clean the title of problem properties in order to make it faster, easier, and cheaper for responsible new owners to fix them up in a transparent manner that results in outcomes consistent with community-based plans. In this way, Land Banks have special technical and financial capacity to systematically inventory, maintain, and sell properties. In Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority has historically been the de facto land banking entity with its goal to put vacant and abandoned parcels into productive reuse and increases the tax base and economic development of a neighborhood. However, April 14, 2014 marked the passage of City Council Bill 2014-0025 which established the creation of the Pittsburgh Land Bank: one piece of a larger re-evaluation of how the city should manage vacant properties. As the city changes, community organizations can become a key part of the process. Little is known so far about how the Land Bank will operate, what parcels it will include, and how big its inventory will be, but it has the potential to give communities a voice to decide the fate of tax-foreclosed property in their neighborhood, guard against vacant land falling into the hands of speculators, put abandoned and derelict structures back into productive use, and allow neighborhood plans to drive development.
Recently, the Pittsburgh Land Bank released its draft inaugural Policies and Procedures, a guide on how the Land Bank will operate day-to-day – what it prioritizes, how it makes its decisions, and how an individual interacts with it.
How much does a family pay? Land and buildings are both sold to private owners, often for the highest price the market will bear, after the land bank has cleared title and completed site remediation.
Who qualifies? Most Land Banks are set up to acquire vacant, residential, and tax-delinquent properties but they can also receive private donations and public land transfers that include multifamily dwellings, commercial and industrial properties, and in rare cases, occupied rental properties.
How many units? Of the more than 40,000 vacant properties in Pittsburgh, about 75% of them are tax delinquent and are considered potential candidates to be part of the Land Bank's inventory. However, Land Bank inventories vary greatly in each jurisdiction, ranging from some that own a few properties to others that operate an inventory of several thousand properties.