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Land Bank Proposal Generates Controversy - Part 1

Posted by Elwin Green on February 14, 2014 at 10:55 AM

A bill proposed in City Council last month became the subject of heated and widespread discussion last week.

 

The 13-page ordinance proposed by Councilwoman Deb Gross on Jan. 14 would create a Land Bank for the City of Pittsburgh with a mission "to return unproductive Real Property to beneficial re-use through a equitable, transparent, public process, thereby revitalizing neighborhoods in line with community goals and needs."

 

While the bill was proposed on Jan. 14, much of the conversation was generated by a pair of events that happened two weeks later. First, the New Pittsburgh Courier ran a front page story, with the headline, "Burgess: No protection for Black neighborhoods in Land Bank proposal," in which Councilman Ricky V. Burgess was quoted as saying that the proposed bill would "realize the fears of people that someone could steal their land."


Then, Councilman Burgess sent a letter to constituents in his 9th District, describing the proposed entity as a "Predatory Land Bank," (yes, in bold. And in italics. And underlined) and "The BIGGEST land grab in the City's history!" That language, combined with a lack of detail about what makes the land bank predatory, struck me as alarmist and unhelpful for a community that needs less suspicion and fear and more facts. But that's me. Take a look at it yourself - what do you think?


The back of the letter outlined five points of "Councilman Rev. Burgess' Plan for Land Bank Community Benefits."

 

1. Low- and moderate-income residents, community groups and churches plan the future of their communities;

2. Low- and modearte-income residents and community groups headquartered within low- andmoderate-income communities have a clear and mandated role in land-use decisions;

3. Low and moderate income members and community-based organizations headquartered within the Land banked communities be contracted to maintain the land in their own communities and the residents within these neighborhoods be employed to do the property maintenance;

4. City Council Members, as the community representative, MUST approve every Land Bank transaction because residents deserve to know who they can hold accountable for what happens in their neighborhoods;

5. The Land Bank's Board of Directors must have residents from low- and moderate-income communities.

 

The letter also called upon residents to come out in support of Burgess' plan at a public hearing, which was held Thursday afternoon, Feb. 6.

 

I live-tweeted the event; the tweets are still visible to your right.

 

Councilman Burgess opened the hearing with a brief presentation which featured maps that highlighted in red the parcels that he said would be subject to seizure by the proposed Land Bank - 50 percent of the land in Homewood, 45 percent of the Hill District.

 

Invited guests took seats before Council members to express their concerns regarding the proposed bill: Judith Ginyard of Community Empowerment Association; Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block; Marimba Milliones, president and CEO of Hill Community Development Corporation.

 

Then the floor was opened for citizens to approach a podium, and a stream of them did - white and black, old and young - with responses ranging from caution to opposition.

 

Burgess ended the session by inviting all to a second meeting at 6 that evening, at Community Empowerment Association in Homewood.


I missed that meeting, having already committed to attending the regular monthly meeting of the Larimer Consensus Group, which was held at the same time. In that meeting, held at the Kingsley Assocation. There, Ernie Hogan, executive director of the Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group, gave his own presentation regarding the Land Bank.


PCRG was part of the Land Recycling Task Force, a group that met from March 2010 through December 2011 to study land banking and help the Ravenstahl administration prepare for the creation of a land bank. An archive on the City's website details their work, which was the basis for Councilwoman Gross' proposal. Hogan's perspective was an interesting counterpoint to what was said at Council. More on that in Part 2.


Also in Part 2 - Malik Bankston: Burgess presentation contains "gross distortions and misrepresentations"; Councilwoman Gross responds to critiques.


Part 3 - Burgess 2012 vs. Gross 2014: two proposals compared.


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1 Comment

Reply Silent observer
11:24 AM on February 17, 2014 
I have a hard time wrapping my head around this obstruction to change. I've lived in homewood for about five years and all I see on my street is section8 houses with drug activity and prostitution next to empty lots.

I attend community meetings and I hear this underlying fear that "they" want our houses and land. I would submit that "we" have long abandoned homewood, the place is empty. The owners stopped paying taxes years ago and moved to Penn Hills.

As for Ricky Burgess, what's his angle? I remember him annoucing the tearing down of "the killing feilds" between Hamilton and Formosa. Guess what, they are still there. I'm not holding my breath waiting for him to get something done. Get out of the way mr. Obstructionist Burgess.

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