State of the Land Report: December/End of Year Wrap Up

Welcome to the End of The Year State of the Land Report!
December 2021

The State of the Land Report is our monthly update where we will be educating and sharing out about everything you need to know about vacant land policy in the City of Pittsburgh! 

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We must ensure that the process of land recycling and maintenance is conducted equitably, transparently, and through an anti-racist framework. Help lobby for changes in local, state, and federal land-use policies, voice your concerns about vacant land in your community and how you want to see it developed, and support your neighbors in obtaining land access and ownership.

State of the Land Updates

2020 Census

Every 10 years, the United Census is completed. The census determines government resource allocation which funds schools, firehouses, hospitals, and institutions,  reapportionment of congressional seats, redistricting of state representatives, and provides us with national, state, and local demographic data which is used by governments, nonprofits, and city agencies.

Preliminary 2020 Census data shows some major demographic shifts for the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Southwestern Pennsylvania. One of the biggest changes is that the city’s Black population dropped by 13.4% or about 10,500 people. This decline is not a surprise and many advocates have called attention to this issue stating the city’s lack of quality and affordable housing as the cause.

The Western PA Research Data Center and University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research released a map showing this change in the Black population. This is deeply related to Pittsburgh’s vacant land issue and the importance of access to and retention of land.



In early November, “Forced Out: The Impact of Displacement and Place on the Residents of Bethesda-Homewood Properties” was released. This study examines the impact of displacement on former Bethesda-Homewood tenants who were abruptly displaced from housing four years ago.

The Department of Human Services undertook the study to assess residents’ displacement experiences, in an effort “to inform planning for future mass displacements, which are likely to occur given our region’s affordable housing crisis.” Such displacement disproportionately impacts Black residents, as was the case with the Bethesda-Homewood properties.

Vacant Land Ownership Pathways

Here are some access and acquisition points for vacant land: treasurer’s sales, the Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program, private sales, PGH Adopt-A-Lot, PGH Side Yard Program, Allegheny County Sheriff’s sales, conservatorship, and the PGH Land Bank.

  • Treasurer’s Sale – purchase property from the Real Estate Division of the Department of Finance
  • Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program – apply to acquire vacant, blighted properties through the Vacant Property Recovery Program
  • Private Sales – private purchase of property/land
  • PGH Adopt-A-Lot – a program that allows residents to lease or license city-owned vacant lots for food, flower or rain gardens 
  • PGH Sideyard Program – a low-cost way to buy a publicly owned vacant lot that directly borders your own property
  • Allegheny County Sheriff’s Sale – property that is sold by the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office (usually mortgage foreclosures and foreclosure actions) 
  • Conservatorship – judge approves conservatorship of a property or building through the Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act 
  • PGH Land Bank – acquire property through Pittsburgh’s distressed property recycling and management agency 

Have you ever tried to acquire vacant, abandoned or distressed land? Are you trying to acquire land? Tell us your story! We want to know your feedback on this process. Have you encountered any roadblocks?

Email us your land story at


Pittsburgh Land Bank “Year in Review”

The Pittsburgh Land Bank has had many staffing and board changes this past year. Notable changes include: Greg Miller is the URA’s new PLB Manager, Councilman Bobby Wilson was appointed to the Board of Directors and Karen Brean will serve as a member of the Board in place of Diamonte Walker.

In April, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette published “Land Bank Fails to Fight Blight” uncovering some of the many reasons why the Pittsburgh Land Bank has largely remained unsuccessful over the past 7 years. It recently became an affiliate of the Urban Redevelopment Authority, so with that and its new leadership, hopefully, change is underway.


In addition, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) included a 74.9 million dollar check to the Urban Redevelopment Authority. 10 million of that funding will go specifically towards the land bank and transferring vacant land to new owners. How the American Rescue Plan changed the course of the URA


Call To Action

Sign up for our advocacy network! If you already have, share this with a friend, family, neighbor, or coworker and get them to sign up as well.

Tell us your land acquisition story! Have you tried to acquire vacant land through one of the 8 vacant land ownership pathways? Do you want to try to acquire land?  What is your feedback? Tell us your story! Email us


Policy Updates

Public Utilities Commission Approves PWSA Stormwater Fee

On November 18, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) announced that changes to water and wastewater conveyance rates and the adoption of a new stormwater fee were approved by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. The new rates will go into effect on January 12, 2022. The new rates, including the stormwater fee, will generate $21 million in additional revenue phased in over two years.

PWSA Stormwater Fee Table

With the rate increase, PWSA recognizes the importance of the affordability of rates and providing customers with the assistance they need. The PUC will provide additional enhancements to existing customer assistance programs that will help customers reduce outstanding balances, save on their monthly bills, and expand current programs to more customers.

A credits program will also be available to residential and non-residential properties. Residential property owners can reduce their stormwater fees by installing certain measures to control stormwater runoff from their properties, such as redirecting downspouts into street planters where applicable or installing a rain garden.

These resources, along with the application process to apply for the stormwater credit, will be available when the stormwater fee goes into effect next year. Read more about the stormwater fee and stormwater master plan here.


PA to Ban PFOAS and PFOS in Drinking Water

Pennsylvania regulators are moving for the first time to set enforceable limits on toxic “forever chemicals” in drinking water. These chemicals, known as PFAS for per and PFOS for polyfluoroalkyl substances, have been used for decades in nonstick, waterproof, and stain-repellent coatings found in cookware, carpeting, clothing, and cosmetics, as well as in firefighting foams and industrial processes. 

PFAS and PFOS are linked to testicular, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancers, weakened childhood immunity, low birth-weight babies, endocrine disruption, and high cholesterol. 

The draft rule would set limits of 14 parts per trillion for PFOA and 18 parts per trillion for PFOS in drinking water in Pennsylvania. It would apply to all community water treatment systems and other public water supplies as well as water bottles and bulk sellers.


City Council Meeting Highlights

On November 30, Pittsburgh City Council passed the “Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law”. This ordinance was put together by Get the Lead Out Pittsburgh in order to address Pittsburgh’s lead issues and reduce lead exposure.

This ordinance will address four of the most common pathways of exposure to lead in the city: lead-safe rental homes and child-occupied spaces, lead-safe demolitions, lead-safe renovations and repairs, and lead-safe drinking water. Stay tuned for more updates on how to be lead-safe.

On November 22,  Pittsburgh City Council introduced a single-use plastic bag ban. If passed, the bill would ban the use of single-use plastic bags, and businesses will be able to provide consumers with a recycled paper bag for a fee of no less than 15 cents.

Goals on Litter and Dumping, or GOLD

On August 23, Mayor Peduto joined the Department of Public Works and the Clean Pittsburgh Commission to announce the City’s Goals on Littering and Dumping (GOLD) Plan for eradicating litter and illegal dumping citywide.

This GOLD Plan includes:

  • New high-resolution cameras purchased by the Clean Pittsburgh Commission to be placed at known dumping sites throughout the city to identify those illegally dumping and collect evidence.
  • Updating City Code to more clearly define litter and illegal dumping violations and to update penalties to include community restitution.
  • A recommendation to create positions that focus on enforcement and community outreach around illegal dumping, litter, and other trash-related issues.

Read the full plan: “How Fractured Responsibilities Contribute to Pittsburgh’s Inability to Handle Its Trash Crisis and How We Can Fix It”


Homewood Vacant Lot Study Funding

The City of Pittsburgh received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development to fund a Homewood Vacant Property Study.  The $17,500 grant will be used to study and analyze vacant properties that are salvageable for possible rehabilitation, City-owned lots that can be sold through the Side Yard program, city-owned lots that can be utilized for URA/City/Housing Authority led the development and structures and lots that can be sold through the Land Bank


Large Development Projects Happening

South Oakland

Large development plans are underway in South Oakland as Walnut Capital is planning Oakland Crossings, a subdistrict in central South Oakland. This mixed-use development is proposing a complete makeover of 17 acres along Halket Street and McKee Place. The plan includes the construction of multiple buildings, a parking garage, a grocery store, and more. Many residents and neighborhood organizations such as the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation and even the Planning Commission have been critical of the project.



Hill District 

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a new majority owner, Fenway Sports Group, a Boston-based firm run by billionaire John Henry. The land immediately adjacent to PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh is currently large surface parking lots, but there is a large-scale plan to develop those sites. Preliminary plans include the headquarters of First National Bank, 1,200 housing units, a live music venue, a food hall, 200,000 square feet of retail, a hotel, and more than 800,000 square feet of office space.

On October 11, The city chose Salem’s to open a full-service grocery store at the Centre Heldman Plaza, the site of the former Shop‘n Save site that has been empty since 2019. Salem’s was chosen following a community process coordinated with City Councilman Daniel Lavelle and the Hill Community Development Corporation.

One year ago, the city and neighborhood groups unveiled Avenues of Hope, an initiative to revive main streets in seven Black neighborhoods including Centre Avenue in the Hill District. On Tuesday, November 30, city and community leaders broke ground on the first project at 2178 Centre Avenue where Big Tom’s Barbershop is being relocated. This project is set to revitalize the Centre Heldman Plaza, the New Granada Theater, and several commercial and residential buildings


On November 24, Mayor-elect Ed Gainey announced the city’s Mon-Oakland Connector project will be put on hold. This project has been quite contentious over the years as residents and public transit advocates have advocated against the project.

On November 23, the City Planning Commission approved the Almono plans for Hazelwood Green which includes 5,500 surface parking spaces. The developers announced a $100 million investment by the R.K. Mellon Foundation and a life sciences facility is planned for the site.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority also approved 11 parcels on the southwestern side of the 4800 block of Second for the Greater Hazelwood Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Disparities to study whether it’s possible to develop a grocery store. Their plans include a 40,000 square foot, two-story building with a grocery store on the first floor.


311 Vacant Lot Data

311 is Pittsburgh’s non-emergency response center. All reports are logged through the Western PA Regional Data Center (WPRDC). Using their Request Type Codebook from their 311 Data User Guide, Grounded is tracking 311 calls made about vacant properties in the city.

However, this data tracking process is far from perfect as 311 reports are self categorized or categorized at the discretion of the 311 call center. According to the WPRDC, there are 234 categories that a report can fall under and it can only be categorized as one thing.

So far, 292 reports have been categorized as “vacant lots” or “URA property” in 2021. Understanding the full scope of their data categorization system as well as incorrectly categorized data is one of our many data priorities.

With this being said, 311 is still an important way to let the city know about your concerns. Make a phone call to 311 or 412-255-2621, use their online request form, submit a report via the myBurgh app for Android and iOS, or Tweet @pgh311. If you make a report be sure it is categorized as a “vacant lot” issue! 

Review our November State of the Land Report for the vacant lot reports broken down by request origin and our October State of the Land Report for the reports broken down by each City Council District.

Steward Spotlight –
Talking Lots with Ebony Lunsford-Evans

Talking Lots is a podcast series that explores the issue of vacant lots in the Pittsburgh region. We present stories of vacant land restoration and activation as told through the voices of residents, community leaders, partners, and officials. Vacant lots are often overlooked but these stories prove that beautiful things can happen when we take care of the land that surrounds us.

In the third episode, we speak with Ebony Lunsford-Evans or also known as FarmerGirl Eb, who discusses her vision for vacant land in her neighborhood, and her process of transforming a neglected vacant lot into intentional community lots. She shares her wisdom and insights on navigating a complex land ownership system and its impact on local communities.

Listen to the full podcast: here

Additional Resources

Review our October State of the Land Report and November State of the Land Report

This month we also released our findings from our PB&G(rounded) Project on lead soil remediation and the feasibility of biochar. Read the Biochar Report!

Check out “A water crisis swept through Pittsburgh five years ago: This is the fullest account of what happened”. This is a great 12-part series by Oliver Morrison at Public Source about the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), Pittsburgh’s drinking water, and how Pittsburgh’s water supply is still vulnerable.

Don’t forget to sign up for our advocacy network!

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