Ganging Up on Blight
September 8, 2016
Blight in Pennsylvania’s older cities is such a fundamental problem that more than 20 bills have been introduced in the current state legislative session dealing with different aspects of it.
Lawmakers, who have given themselves only nine days to deal with pending legislation after taking a seven-week vacation, should make a priority of several of those bills.
Foremost among them is a bill sponsored by Democratic state Sen. John Blake of Lackawanna County and Republican state Sen. David Argall of Schuylkill County. It would speed the foreclosure process on vacant and abandoned properties without jeopardizing property rights.
The bill would establish specific definitions for what constitutes abandoned and vacant properties. To jump-start a foreclosure process, a municipal code officer or local court could declare a property abandoned or vacant under the statute, thereby enabling the lender holding the mortgage to begin foreclosure faster than otherwise would be possible. According to Blake, the bill could reduce the foreclosure process from more than the average 500 days to fewer than 300 days.
That change could help fight blight in several ways. Most important is that it could help get more vacant properties into the hands of new owners, and back on the tax rolls, before they deteriorate beyond the point of no return. That is especially so in places, like Lackawanna County, that have established innovative land banks to help restore fallow properties to productive purposes. And, in cases where properties have badly deteriorated, the new foreclosure timetable could hasten demolition and head off blight.
The Legislature should pass the bill and Gov. Tom Wolf should sign it into law.
But Blake pointed out an even more important initiative. He called for the restoration of full funding for the Elm Street and Main Street programs, and other community redevelopment efforts, that was reduced or eliminated as government revenues plummeted amid the Great Recession.
While building community arsenals against blight, the state and federal governments also should help fund follow-up redevelopment.
Pennsylvania General Assembly (SB 1191 full text)
Pennsylvania State Senate (Senate Co-Sponsorship Memoranda)