Advocates look to bank settlement funds to fight Pa. blight

    A housing advocate says Pennsylvania is falling behind neighboring states in its efforts to combat blight.

    Nearly two years ago, the state passed legislation for “land banking,”  a set of new tools for cities and counties to grab up derelict properties and speed their return to productive use. Sometimes that means flipping houses; sometimes it means demolishing a structure to turn the plot into green space or enable stormwater management.

    Seven land banks, including one in Philadelphia,  have been established in the commonwealth, but a lack of funding has slowed the process.

    “We need to figure out a financing mechanism,” said Elizabeth Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania. “We don’t have money for the operation of land banks at all.”

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    Ohio and New York have sped ahead, said Hersh. They’ve tapped dedicated tax revenue to pay for things such as acquisition and demolition costs.

    Dedicated taxes could do the trick, but a national housing group has also suggested the money could come from recent settlements with banks over their role in selling low-quality mortgage bonds, such as the $16.65 billion agreement with Bank of America.

    “People think that foreclosure is just between the lender and the borrower, but it has a huge impact on the community, it has a public impact,” Hersh said. “So, I think some of these settlement dollars, like from Bank of America, should really be invested into making it right … it would be very good business for Bank of America to do that.”

    A non-profit tracking land banks says about 120 are in operation across the country. Roughly half have been established since the 2008 recession.

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