The estimated property value loss due to blight in Allegheny County was $1,264,490,987 last year.
That huge number reflects the huge impact of blight.
But municipalities are fighting back. A collaborative made up of the Steel Valley, Turtle Creek and Twin River Council of Governments (Tri-COG) is leading a multi-municipal effort to reclaim blighted properties in the Mon Valley and Eastern suburbs.
"As Allegheny County as a whole is growing, our municipalities are still losing population and still suffering the effects of property abandonment and blight," says An Lewis, Executive Director of Steel Valley Council of Governments.
"Individually, communities lack the capacity to fight blight," continues Lewis. "Capacity comes from collaboration. Our leadership and the executive directors of the three COGs recognized that there is a lot of shared experience among our membership — a similar suffering."
The group agreed that there weren't enough resources to address the problem of blight and that the cost of the problem was not fully known. So, according to Lewis, they "set out to articulate the problem quantitatively and demonstrate the blight is costly."
In the summer of 2013, the Tri-COG conducted a study to figure out just how much blighted households cost homeowners and taxing jurisdictions throughout the Tri-COG's 42 municipalities. The staggering results reveal the magnitude of the problem related to blight in our region. (Download a copy of the Full Report or Executive Summary.)
According to the key findings of the study, "blight has a devastating effect on the Tri-GOG communities. Blighted and vacant properties damage the fabric of the community, cost significant dollars to maintain, and erode the local tax base because of tax delinquency often associated with blighted properties. Even more compelling is the fact that blight prevents private investments in the neighborhoods because it undermines the value of real estate, making market-driven redevelopment unlikely."
"We gathered the information and produced the report, which we feel creates a compelling argument for the region that the status quo is not working and that we need to do something," says Lewis.
Fortunately, right before we completed the study, Pennsylvania's State Legislature passed the Land Bank Act 153," explains Lewis. "The goal of the land bank is to take an abandoned property, clean the title up and get it back into productive use."
"Recycling vacant and abandoned property is not free and is not cheap," adds Lewis. "A part of our mission is to try to develop a sustainable vehicle for accomplishing that task."
Since the passage of the Act, the Tri-COG Collaborative has been trying to bring land banking to Allegheny County and understand how it may function and aid in the region's resurgence. They have developed a Land Bank Business Plan, which provides the legal, fiscal, and procedural framework needed before a land bank can be established. (Download a copy of the Full Business Plan or Executive Summary.)
Lewis acknowledges that eliminating blight is critical.
"The advancement of business and commercial corridors is absolutely interdependent with the stability of the residential neighborhood," Lewis points out. "You can't have healthy small businesses along a traditional main street in a place that has a distressed residential community. Our goal is to use the land bank as a vehicle to approach redevelopment in a holistic way — to look at residential properties, commercial properties and vacant land — and help municipalities figure out the best use for these places and help them to prioritize their resources."