Conversation with Deb Gross: Land bank as tool for community empowerment?

Deb Gross imageI’ve been recording conversations about the potential impacts of land bank legislation introduced by District 7 City Council member, Deb Gross. Here are her own hopes for how the legislation might enable the revitalization of communities throughout Pittsburgh as blighted and abandoned properties might be brought back into circulation. She also responds to widespread concerns and to thoughtful recommendations for amendments from community groups and residents of the neighborhoods that would be most affected by the operations of a land bank.

Audio of conversation on 02/10/14. (20 minutes)

I’m currently editing recorded conversations with Council Member Ricky Burgess of District 9, with Marimba Milliones, CEO of the Hill District CDC, and with Rev. John Welch, former President of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network and police chaplain. All three have been working for many years to address the impacts of blight and  abandonment with their neighbors and allies in their home communities – and the long histories of top-down planning and gentrification that many fear may replay if safeguards for community inclusion and empowerment are not codified in the legislation.

There will be a public hearing on the land bank legislation this coming Thursday, February 20th, starting at 6pm in City Council Chambers. You can call 412-255-2138 to sign up for three minutes of speaking time.

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About helengerhardt1

Helen Gerhardt: Pittsburgher, writer, member of the Commission on Human Relations: nothing written at this blog reflects the views or positions of the Commission.

2 thoughts on “Conversation with Deb Gross: Land bank as tool for community empowerment?

  1. In regards to your question, what can we write into the legislation to reassure members of poor, minority &/or historically exploited communities that this land bank will not work counter to their interests, let me take a crack at an honest answer…

    NOTHING. There is absolutely nothing we can put down on paper that will counterbalance people’s extremely rational judgements based on years of experience about the way the world works. If we DID design excellent, legal, and practical language, those residents would be very correct to object, “Yes, but what’s to stop them from totally ignoring that and doing what they want anyway? You know it’s all about grabbing our land, turning a profit, and pushing us out. We didn’t just fall off the turnip truck!”

    This is not to say we should not work to improve the bill to make everything run as accountably and transparently as possible, and it’s certainly not to say we’re already there. It is to say that the ONLY way to improve the morale of community members towards local government, will be to see positive results over time. Like, ten years down the road. If we wait until all, most, or even a good many community members feel positive about what is about to happen in their neighborhoods, we will be stuck with more abandonment, alienation and the exact political opportunism that already exists for another century. Let’s listen honestly to all the input we can, process it, and move forward with the best possible legislation without waiting for it to be celebrated by residents whose righteous skepticism has been building since 1776.

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    • Bram, I do think it requires some mighty mindreading to assert that sweeping “NOTHING.” Having spent the last few weeks talking to leaders and residents in the communities that would be most affected, I believe that their answers don’t beg to differ. They demand that their elected officials differ from such conclusions by actively supporting revisions to the legislation that mandate concretely enforceable protections for community representation and equitable acquisition/dispensation of properties by a land bank that will actively help repair damage caused by redlining and racist housing and land use policies practiced in the past. They demand a community-accountable land bank – yes a clear majority of conversations thus far do indeed indicate such an accountable landbank is strongly desired as a crucial tool to revitalize their neighborhoods that have been deeply mired by tax delinquency and blight.

      The voices of some of these people will be featured here at the Buses Are Bridges blog – they will speak best for themselves and their perceptions of the interests of their neighborhood. But I have heard a broad-based consensus from both organizations and individuals that they would indeed be reassured by these particular changes in the legislation:

      * Expanding the number of board members from seven to eleven, with 3-4 of those members to be residents of communities most affected by the operations of a land bank. However, these community members are debating criteria for candidate expertise/experience/representational fairness and process suggestions for nomination or election of representatives by communities.

      * Mandating affordable housing for low-income residents is crucial, although percentages and how such guarantees will be mandated is currently being discussed in depth. The Hill District Consensus Group and Hill CDC have developed very specific demands for their own neighborhoods, which will be presented at the blog.

      * Protections for owner-occupied tax-delinquent property from acquisition by a land bank

      *Clear protections against speculators.

      *Requiring assessments of community social and economic benefit and opportunity for neighborhood review of potential dispensations with plenty of advance and widespread notice of such public deliberations. HDCG has especially focused on the need for transparently public review of “development involving public funds/financing or multi-unit/use private development”.

      There are plenty of other positive answers I’ve heard as to what would reassure minority community residents, but those are the ones that have come up repeatedly.

      All readers here, please check out Bram Reichbaum’s truly excellent blog post on the land bank legislation and debate, here: http://pittsburghcomet.com/2014/02/20/land-bank-rumble-tonight-who-makes-the-calls/

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