By: Phyllis Chamberlain
Published: October 11, 2017
Senator David Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks), Chairman of the Pennsylvania Blight Task Force and a great champion of state level policies and programs to tackle blight, issued a challenge to communities across the Commonwealth in a recent Letter to the Editor published in the Easton Express-Times: “If your community is not using these laws in the battle against blight, it’s time to speak up and ask ‘why not’?” His letter pointed out the numerous tools that have been made possible through state enabling legislation. These tools are due to his leadership, the Housing Alliance’s own efforts, champions within the General Assembly, and countless others.
The Housing Alliance has a long history of creating tools and resources and providing technical assistance to assist local leaders to fight blight. The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and its Governor’s Center for Local Government Services recognizes the connection between a municipality’s fiscal health and the prevalence of vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties. And due to their support, the Housing Alliance is able to offer technical assistance* to communities in the Act 47 Municipalities Financial Recovery Program to create and implement strategies that will help communities fight blight.
Many communities are implementing strategies available in PA and documented in From Blight to Bright. Over the last few weeks and months, more communities have put in place strategies that will better prevent and remediate blight in their communities.
- Lawrence County became the most recent community to establish a land bank. This county wide land bank will work to put tax delinquent, vacant, and blighted housing back on the tax rolls. The establishment of a land bank was one of several strategies outlined in Lawrence County’s comprehensive blight plan. There are now 17 land banks in Pennsylvania.
- Northumberland County was the latest county to create a demolition fund. Act 152, signed into law in November 2016, enables counties to raise up to $15 for each deed and mortgage recorded to be used for a demolition program. Since then, at least 9 counties have passed ordinances creating this fund and 5 have reported they are considering it.
- New Castle has developed a comprehensive blight plan using the process outlined in the Housing Alliance’s We Can Do This!: A Five-Step, Fast-Track Blight Plan. The New Castle News has reported on the City’s progress on October 6, September 29, and September 20.
- This article highlights the inaugural meeting of Altoona’s Blight Task Force. The Altoona Mirror has documented the creation and development of the Task Force on September 9, 2017, August 25, 2017 and August 17, 2017. The purpose of the Blight Task Force is to lead a process that answers the question of how the community might be better if blight were less prevalent and identifies the strategies that will best lead the community to that goal.
- Emmaus is one of many communities utilizing a quality of life ticketing program to incentivize property owners to maintain their properties.
Blight undermines a community’s ability to revitalize its neighborhoods and economy. It remains a pressing issue in Pennsylvania, however, communities continue to take actions that will more quickly and efficiently bring properties back into productive use.
For information on resources available to fight blight, go to the PA Blight Library and download We Can Do This! A Five-Step, Fast-Track Blight Plan, Developing and Implementing a Comprehensive Blight Strategy, Land Bank Resource Guide and From Blight to Bright.
* The Housing Alliance is able to provide this assistance through the contracting services of Winnie Branton of Branton Strategies.
If your community is in the Act 47 Municipalities Financial Recovery Act program, contact Winnie Branton with Branton Strategies LLC who serves as the Housing Alliance’s Blight Technical Assistance Program Manager. We thank DCED for making this resource available to communities.