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Council approves amended land bank proposal - 2

Posted by Elwin Green on April 10, 2014 at 2:00 PM

My friend and former colleague, Diana Nelson Jones, asked me on Facebook what I think. I have not yet read the legislation as passed, only the stories about it that I referred to in the previous post. After I've read it, I may have more to say, but here's what I have for now; 

I think a land bank is basically a good idea. The degrees of vacancy and tax delinquency in the City generally, and in Homewood in particular, are ridiculous; the current process for returning real estate to productive use is ineffective; and even if Councilwoman Harris is correct in saying that that process could be fixed with sufficient funding, the land bank, as a separate entity, will not require that funding, which the City seems ill-positioned to provide.

I never understood Councilman Burgess's messaging on this, because it sounded to me like he not only considered the Councilwoman Gross's original bill to be a bad bill, but that he considered the land bank itself to be a bad idea. This confused me, because on October 31, 2012, he proposed legislation to create a land bank, and on November 3, 2012, when he described it to the Save Race Street Committee, he sounded excited about the idea, describing it as "probably the most important thing I've done in Council" - he talked about it for seven minutes, beginning at 5:17 in this video:


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On November 14, 2012 that proposed legislation (listed on the City's website as 2012-0895), was held for post agenda, which means that it was supposed to be the subject of a meeting in which Council invites people with expertise to come and speak. That meeting never happened, and on December 31, 2012, it died. The question that Homewood Nation should have asked Burgess as soon as he spoke out against Councilwoman Gross's bill is, "What happened with yours?" (Did some other media outlet pick up on that, and did I miss it?)

I think Deb Gross stepped into it by having her very first piece of legislation be one that seemed hastily drafted. I say seemed because the process leading up to it goes back to March, 2010. But she had been in office barely a month.


I think the provision for City Council to have oversight for two years coincides nicely with the remaining length of Councilman Burgess' term.

I think I need to do better at paying attention to everything having to do with land/real estate, and at bringing it to my readers' attention (again, the background to this bill goes back FOUR YEARS).


I think it's really interesting, and perplexing, how so many people in my community talk so much about "land," but so little about "real estate."


I think that one of the first policies that the board of the land bank should write is one that lists the order in which it will acquire properties, and that said policy should specify that it will acquire and dispose of City-owned properties FIRST, and that owner-occupied properties will come dead last - ALWAYS, so that not one owner-occupied property will be considered for acquisition until there are no City-owned properties left. Councilwoman Gross says there are 7,000 - 8,000 parcels wholly owned by the City; acquiring and disposing of those would take years.


I think that Councilman Burgess may have just secured his re-election - UNLESS the fear ignited (not created) by his campaign against the bill now makes people view him as a sellout for voting for even an amended version. In any case, if he runs again, I think his performance on this bill will be the centerpiece of his campaign.


I think the course of the bill's progress provides a fascinating study in communication. Consider these examples of..

1) Communication within communities: In Homewood, after the original bill was publicized by Councilman Burgess, the Community Empowerment Association held an emergency meeting about the land bank. At the same time, on the same day, the Larimer Consensus Group included a presentation about the land bank as part of its regular monthly meeting.


I tried to do that as chair of Block Watch Plus.  Somebody needs to do it better than I did, because Homewood does not need any more emergency meetings.

2) Communication to communities: Councilman Burgess flooded his district with emotionally-charged letters; Councilwoman Gross and Councilman Corey O'Connor snagged space on the CIty's website to build an information-packed mini-website for the land bank. Personally, I would rather research a topic online than receive scary letters about it in the mail. In fact, I think that if Councilman Burgess does seek re-election, and does not change his communication strategies or style (which have apparently worked well enough for him so far), his effort will be hindered by those strategies, or by that style. I think an increasing number of us who vote a) would rather use Facebook, Twitter or even email than read postal mail, and b) want more continual access to information, and more engagement, than he offers.

He, his staff and his supporters need to deal with that.

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1 Comment

Reply Ebony Robinson
11:33 AM on April 30, 2014 
It would be nice to have a monthly community meeting for Homewod at which presentations on specific issues, ordinances, programs and political candidates were presented. It would be even nicer for these topics to be publicized in advance and weblinks to important documents shared in advanced so comunity residents could come prepared to participate in a vibrant discussion.

I do not have a position on the land bank legislation. I do not have enough information to make an informed decision. Are there any Homewood specific, community- ready data or reports that detail the number of parcels owned by the city, owner-occupied units in danger of being sold, the real estate value of these parcels by zoning, GIS maps of parcel, and any information on the property value/tax revenue collected once these properties have been sold?

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In October 2005, after a bullet came through his living room window, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Elwin Green began writing "My Homewood," the first blog on the P-G's website. For 4 1/2 years, "My Homewood" shared stories of tragedy and beauty, of perplexity and hope - stories that live again in "The Homewood Chronicles."

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