Pottstown looks to land bank to help with blighted properties

By: Matt Carey, Reading Eagle

Published: October 15, 2017

After years of declining real estate assessments in the borough, Pottstown officials hope that a land bank will help stem the tide by moving some blighted properties to new owners.

Borough council voted last week to advertise a land banking ordinance, which, if adopted, would allow the borough to establish a governmental entity to acquire vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties for the purpose of transferring them to new owners, who would then rehabilitate the property.

The key powers a land bank can utilize include extinguishing any tax liens on the property, quieting the title on the property without a lengthy legal process, and negotiating sales at a judicial auction without having to compete with other bidders.

“It acquires properties that are dead on the open market,” said consultant Winifred Branton, who runs her own Philadelphia-based firm specializing in the land banking process. “They just aren’t moving, they aren’t selling, they can’t be sold for a variety of reasons, and they create liabilities in neighborhoods.”

Data from the 2010 census indicates that 10 percent of housing units in Pottstown are vacant. In addition, as of Oct. 3, 65 properties are certified as blighted by the borough’s blighted property review committee, as well as an additional 14 parcels being on the Montgomery County Tax Claim Bureau Repository List.

Branton says that the land bank serves as more of a framework for collaboration between the local taxing bodies than as a one-size-fits-all solution.

“It’s not going to solve all of your problems” Branton said. “It’s a tool.”

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