Mayor Parker wants to reform dysfunctional Philadelphia Land Bank 

Nonprofit agency beleaguered by understaffing, lack of transparency

Administration Eyes “Real Reform” of Philadelphia Land Bank
Philadelphia Land Bank's Angel Rodriguez and mayor Cherelle Parker (Philadelphia City Planning Commission, Getty)

The Philadelphia Land Bank, the agency which reactivates vacant land, is crucial to the city administration’s housing goals, an adviser to Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker said.

But the beleaguered nonprofit is sorely in need of reform, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, and proposed changes could make it a vital pipeline for housing in the city.

“Mayor Parker has laid out a bold vision of 30,000 units of housing, and the only way that works is if we have a functioning and fast moving Land Bank,” said Aren Platt, a top adviser to Parker. Platt said “real reform” was coming, but didn’t elaborate further.

When it was created in 2013, the Land Bank was meant to acquire abandoned private land and get vacant parcels into use. All of the city’s publicly held land would be under one umbrella and the municipal government would have priority in acquiring tax delinquent properties in sheriff sales (another problematic area for the city).

But in its first decade, the Land Bank sold a mere 892 lots and resulted in the creation of 992 homes. Nearly 7,700 properties are under municipal ownership but haven’t moved through the process, which alone could account for a third of the mayor’s goal of 30,000 new or repaired homes in four years.

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Issues at the Land Bank include understaffing, a lack of transparency and the ability of City Council members to dictate the disposition of the land in each of their own districts. An online map doesn’t shed much light on land availability, and regular progress reports and strategic plans haven’t been updated in years.

Reforms not on the table include ousting Angel Rodriguez, the executive director who has led the Land Bank for seven years. Parker did appoint a new slate of board members, though. Additional funding for the program was not requested in the most recent city budget.

This fiscal year, 253 lots have moved through the land disposition process, a promising sign for the city as Parker tries to get the Land Bank and City Council on the same page.

Holden Walter-Warner

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