A Community Empowerment Association meeting about the ramifications of pending legislation to create a Pittsburgh Land Bank has yielded even more calls for community involvement and limits on the proposed land bank’s powers.
Rashad Byrdsong, CEA president & CEO, said the March 5 meeting was very productive and well attended by residents from across the city.
“What came out of it was reinforcement that this has to be a bottom up approach, from the communities first,” he said. “We have recommended increasing the size of the board to 11, to include community representation. Our next step is to convene a city-wide Land Bank task force.”
But something else came out of the meeting, a set of amendments to Councilwoman Deb Gross’ original legislation that will be introduced by Councilmen Rev. Ricky Burgess and R. Daniel Lavelle, who represent communities where up to 50 percent of the land could be seized for the land bank initiative.
Gross told the New Pittsburgh Courier that she would be working with community groups to come up with amendments that would address concerns about the land bank’s oversight and governance.
Burgess, however, said Gross had been holding secret meetings with community development corporations in his district and elsewhere.
He began his attack on the pending legislation and the process during the regular March 11 city council meeting calling it “carpetbagging.”
“This is a secret process to eliminate council oversight because you can’t steal the land until you disenfranchise city council,” he said. “We have been meeting too and we’re putting our stuff out there for the public to see. I believe the people in the four council districts with 70 percent of the bankable land should have a say.”
Lavelle summed up his objections by recalling what happened when the Lower Hill was razed to build the Civic Area.
“This bill says basically, ‘pass it and trust us,’” he said. “We’ve seen what happens when we trust. The Lower Hill is what happens.”
To that end, he and Burgess have proposed 10 amendments to land bank legislation. The first echoes Byrdsong and would expand the board to 11 members, four appointed by the mayor, four by community-based organizations, and three appointed by council members whose districts contain the most tax-delinquent and blighted land.
The other amendments would:
•prohibit the land bank from acquiring any occupied real estate;
•require any residential development of land bank property to contain 30 percent affordable housing;
•require the board, not staff, to approve all purchases;
•require hiring businesses within the effected land bank communities to maintain and manage properties;
•require land bank contractors to pay employees a living wage;
•allow community groups to block land bank sales;
•require city council to approve all land bank sales,
•require the city planning department to develop a policy to have community plans quickly adopted; and
•prohibit the land bank from engaging in political activity.
A council post agenda meeting would still need to be convened before a vote on the original legislation and any amendments could take place. That meeting has yet to be scheduled.
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