A new tool for renewal
Pennsylvania gradually has increased the arsenal available to cities in the war against blight. More aggressive code enforcement, broader power to find absentee and tax-delinquent owners and the ability to unravel the red tape that often kept irresponsible owners in possession of neglected property all have helped to improve neighborhoods in cities that have used the weapons.
Local governments have yet to employ a powerful new weapon that the state government authorized last year - land banks.
The idea is not simply to demolish blighted property or to sell it in search of revenue, but to do all of that and make the property productive for the long term.
Philadelphia, with 40,000 abandoned houses, commercial properties and vacant lots, plans to launch a land bank to help renew those properties and their neighborhoods, and Dauphin County already has established an authority to do so.
Part of the problem with abandoned properties often is the ability to get clean titles for them, due to the unresponsiveness of owners who owe taxes, fees, mortgages or other obligations. The land bank law enables authorities to seek clean titles in court.
To see acquired properties to new uses, the authorities are authorized to create partnerships and joint ventures with other governments and private parties.
For example, in other areas where land banks have been established, authorities have obtained properties for $1 after the governments that are owned delinquent taxes waive that amount and agree to receive half of all the tax revenue a redeemed property generates - short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.
Another problem in eradicating blight is that abandoned parcels are sold individually. Land banks would be able to consolidate them into cohesive projects for housing, commercial development or public park and recreation space.
Blight is not as huge an issue in Northeast Pennsylvania as in a major city such as Philadelphia or Detroit, but that just means it is more manageable in the first place.