Tax delinquencies hampering Black communities

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A new audit of the city’s real estate acquisitions and holdings shows that although the bulk of the properties taken for tax delinquency are in predominantly Black neighborhoods, most saw more properties resold.

The audit released March 29 by Controller Michael Lamb found the City is the major owner of vacant, tax-delinquent properties in the following city neighborhoods:  Perry South, California-Kirkbride, Garfield, Homewood North, Homewood South, Beltzhoover, Hazelwood, Middle Hill and Larimer.

“Many City owned vacant and tax-delinquent properties are in our most underserved communities,” he said.  “We must make every effort, including working with the citizens in the community in which these properties are located, to get these properties back on the City tax rolls. We also must create a system so these properties are given regular maintenance.  They are contributing to neighborhood blight and in some cases are safety hazards.”

Lamb’s audit further notes that the city’s recent practice of only taking properties that have a high probability of resale—rather than taking all delinquent properties—has reduced its holdings and generated new tax revenue.

During the period covered by the audit, July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2010, the city sold 466 properties assessed at nearly $11 million for $3.6 million. Its share of the tax revenue now being generated is just under $118,000 per year.

Of the neighborhoods indicated above, only Hazelwood saw a net gain, of six, in delinquent properties.  However, the delinquent properties not acquired by the city remain—just off the books. The audit indicates little can be done about them.

Some can be adapted for reuse and may be given to communities for other purposes than residential use such as community gardens like those in Homewood, East Liberty, or Hazelwood, or like the apiary in Homewood, or for parklets like the one in Polish Hill.

Conveying these properties to other community owners, even for promising uses has also been limited because several such owners are themselves delinquent and are forbidden to take on additional property.

Nonetheless, the report recommends the city increase its efforts to work with neighborhoods schools and other groups to utilize vacant properties for community purposes.

“We have properties that continue to be delinquent, so we have to reach out to communities, even if its’ just to help maintain empty lots,” said Lamb. “The system is working, the side-yard sale program is successful, but it’s not enough. It’s an ongoing struggle.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpitsburghcourier.com.)

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