Sell or transfer publicly owned vacant properties

Benefits

Community

Reduces blight and crime, attracts new residents and businesses, increases household wealth, allows residents to expand their property for a nominal cost

Environmental

Offers land for food production and alternative energy generation, respects land as a natural resource

Economic

Lowers $20 million annual maintenance cost, attracts new businesses and business expansion, offers city a more business-friendly reputation

Peer Cities

Atlanta, Cleveland, and Dallas have each created a single entity with authority to acquire and transfer vacant land based upon a clear mission and goals. Pittsburgh has an effective sideyard program. Detroit has made urban agriculture on vacant land a priority.
To make our neighborhoods healthy, vibrant and safe, City Council must create a fast, clear, and fair process to sell or transfer the 10,000 publicly owned properties currently in the city’s inventory to responsible owners. For decades, the city has proved itself unable to maintain properties while in its care or to transfer them to responsible owners. The city’s property transfer system is broken. Fragmented ownership among four agencies, complicated, unclear rules for sale, and the need for multiple agencies and politicians to sign off on even routine transfers make it enormously difficult for interested businesses or residents to buy a property.

City Council should pass an ordinance that gives a single city department, authority or non-profit organization full power and legal authority to transfer all vacant properties owned by city agencies and the RDA through a predictable, transparent process. This same City Council ordinance should require that all publicly owned vacant properties be accurately identified in a single inventory that is updated quarterly and made available online for the public. In addition, the ordinance should require an annual report that describes the number, type, and planned use for publicly owned property. 

To speed the process, City Council should work with the Nutter Administration to establish priorities for use of vacant properties for different areas of the city, including real estate development, parks, sideyards and urban agriculture. Once these policies and priorities are approved by City Council, the single department or agency will have full authority to make routine transfers. More complex transfers that involve more than one-half acre will still require a separate Council resolution. 

City Council should also work with the Administration to develop priorities for property acquisition and land assembly activities. City Council should develop a process where community organizations, developers, farmers and others with a clear plan for reuse can request that one of the city’s 30,000 privately owned blighted, long-term vacant property be acquired within nine months of their request and sold to them.

Council should help to create a simple, customer-friendly process to obtain sideyards and lots for community gardens. The majority of the 40,000 vacant lots in the city are single lots, yet few have been adopted as sideyards due in large part to the deficiencies of the city’s sideyard program. City Council needs to help remove subjective, confusing rules and complex legal requirements and replace them with short user-friendly sideyard purchase contracts that will encourage Philadelphians to own and care for the lot next door – an important way to eliminate derelict sites, return properties to the city’s tax rolls, and reduce the city’s yearly $20 million maintenance bill.


The city should continue to invest in cleaning and greening small lots that nearby owners do not buy or lease as a short-term holding strategy to stabilize neighborhoods and create more jobs.


Larger vacant properties should be prioritized for urban agriculture or energy generation where public and private open space is needed and real estate investment is limited. Urban farms can produce healthy, local food in neighborhoods that need it.   In addition, farms attract new housing development by providing nearby greenspace and access to fresh food.[1] Solar and geo-thermal energy also can be generated on larger vacant properties. 

 

[1] Megan Kimble, Suburban living, down on the farm, Los Angeles Times (November 29, 1010) (Across the country housing surrounding organic farms has become an increasing draw  for housing offering greenspace and access to fresh food with farms being referred to as the new golf course for its attractiveness to home buyers.) http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-farm-communities-20101129,0,5049879.story