State of the Land Report: July 2023

State of the Land Report

(Above: PGH Mobile Toolbox at a workday for the Homewood Historical Farm)

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!

State of the Land Updates

 Amendment to the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law Passes PA State Legislature

The amendment to the Municipal Claims and Tax Lien Law (MCTLL) was passed by the PA State legislature and signed into law on July 5th, 2023. It grants second class cities (Pittsburgh) and land banks in the area the legal right to access land through the Sheriff’s sale, rather than the Treasurer’s sale. The bill was presented as SB202, and HB711 in the Pennsylvania State Senate and House respectively by Senator Fontana and Representative Kinkead.

The Treasurer’s sale, also known as T-sale, is a process run by the City of Pittsburgh to reclaim liens on any privately-owned vacant properties. Any lien holder can request that the property go to Treasurer’s sale so they can reclaim the money they are owed. The main taxing bodies are the City, School District, and County, as well as the Water & Sewer Authority. T-sale is an open bid, so there is no guarantee that a resident will obtain the property they are looking to buy – a developer could swoop in and outbid them. Also, the tax liens from the previous owner are passed on to the new owner, making the process of acquiring vacant land very expensive and risky. Finally, before a piece of land can be sold, there are many legal services required to quiet the title and make a new deed. This process is extremely time-consuming and can take years.

The Sheriff’s sale is a county process and allows for priority bidding, which protects buyers with community ties from developers. This is one of the main goals of a land bank, so the passing of this law will greatly increase the land bank’s ability to recycle vacant land into productive spaces. It also expedites the process of quieting the title and clearing the liens, so residents can acquire the land much faster. This amendment will go into effect in 60 days, on September 3rd.

*Correction: last month we previously stated that city owned property was eligible for Treasurer’s sale. However these processes are to recycle privately-owned, tax delinquent properties.*
The city can buy or acquire these properties, which then go into their inventory, but no city-owned properties are sold during the Treasurer’s or Sheriff’s sale. If someone wants to buy a piece of city owned land, they can go through the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA), the Real Estate Office’s main process, or the Land Bank. The URA process is complicated, time consuming, and is usually for larger developers. The Real Estate office can take five or six years to process a property, and even then the buyer needs to pay off all of the back taxes. In many other cities, land banks processes are affordable, relatively quick, and manageable ways for residents to purchase both privately owned and city/municipality owned land. This is why we are fighting for a functioning land bank in Pittsburgh.


Updates on Pittsburgh Land Bank Budget 

The Pittsburgh Land Bank (PLB)was initially allocated $10M from the federal funds given to Pittsburgh through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The PLB board approved a budget for that $10M in December of 2022 so that it could achieve the deadline of allocating the money by the end of 2024, and spending the money by the end of 2026.

In January 2023 $3M of that money was shifted into a food justice fund, leaving the PLB with a budget of $7M to spend in a little less than four years.

Most recently, the Gainey administration slashed their funding in half again (down to $3.5M) due to concerns about thePLB’s ability to spend the money within the deadline. The other $3.5M will be reallocated to the URA, supposedly for other vacancy-related issues.

Listen to the WESA episode of The Confluence featuring Grounded’s amazing Director of Programming, Becca Simon! The later 2/3 of the podcast are about the food justice fund and the land bank budget cuts.

We want to hear from you! What are your thoughts?

Past SOTLR Updates

There has been lots of action around the Tri-Party Cooperation Agreement in the past few weeks! Keep an eye out for an email next week with updates on the amendment!

If you want to read more about the progress, you can do so here: 

‘We need homes, not vacant lots’: Pittsburgh council hears public land bank support 

Legislation to help Pittsburgh’s land bank continues to worry city council members


Advocacy 101: Public Comment at Pittsburgh Land Bank Board Meetings

Do you have opinions about the Pittsburgh Land Bank? Do you think they should be focusing on one topic or another? Does the issue of vacant property affect your everyday life? Do you want to see land recycled more effectively in Pittsburgh? Attend a board meeting for the Pittsburgh Land Bank!

There are public comment periods held at the beginning and end of each meeting. You will be asked to share your name and address or neighborhood, and have three minutes to speak. If you sign up, your name will be called during the first public comment section, but you can also speak at the end if you want to respond to anything that was said during the meeting.

The meetings are held at 1:00 PM on the 2nd Friday of every month on Zoom.

To attend but not make a comment, you can join the webinar through the link posted on this page.

To provide public comment, sign up via this form before 11:00 AM on the day of the meeting.

If you cannot attend the meeting live, you can watch a recording of it on the City of Pittsburgh’s Youtube channel.

Watch the most recent meeting here.

The next meeting is September 8th, 2023 at 1:00 PM.

Community Advocacy Opportunity

2024 Housing Opportunity Fund Annual Allocation Community Feedback Survey

Please take 5 minutes to fill out this survey on how the Housing Opportunity Fund’s $10 million should be spent in 2024! Survey closes on Monday July 31, 2023 at 11:59 PM.

Land Use News 

Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Bank Updates

Berg Place site in Carrick could become affordable senior housing development

Housing developer owes $80K in back taxes, liens

Pittsburgh Land Bank completes first property sale amid deadlock on processing more properties 

URA board approves borrowing for affordable housing 

URA’s Avenues of Hope grant program awards $2.4 million in first funding round 

$50 million federal infusion coming to Pittsburgh housing authority’s Hill District revamp


City Council and City of Pittsburgh Updates and Meeting Highlights

Estimates say Pittsburgh is short 27,000 affordable housing units; city looks to bond program

$3 million food justice plan approved in Pittsburgh


Community Updates

Frustrations mounting in Duquesne as neighbors, city fight blight

Hays Woods officially designated a Pittsburgh park

Historic Shady Avenue Presbyterian Church will be torn down

New Giant Eagle and apartment complex could cause zoning changes in Bloomfield

New affordable housing development to cater to seniors in Pittsburgh’s Fairywood

“No Frick’n way”: Neighbors oppose transforming former Irish Centre into high-end apartments 

North Side neighborhoods are still scarred by the “Great Wall of Manchester” 

Pittsburgh looks to dedicate $3.5 million to major Homewood Park renovations 

Youth of Homewood: Pittsburgh must do better in our neighborhood


Allegheny County Updates

Allegheny County Housing Authority in talks to take over Hill District Property

Home repair program to open applications in Allegheny County

Pittsburgh population stable, outlying suburbs growing, per new census estimates


Pennsylvania Updates

Demand is set to swamp Pa.’s Whole-Home Repairs Program as sim rural counties are left out

Long-range regional transportation plan increases spending for public transit

A Pa. community wins a reprieve on toxic fracking wastewater

Private talks, but no progress reported in Pa. budget stalemate

Shell’s air pollution violations result in $10 million fine for Beaver County ethane cracker



Five Ways Urban Planners Are Addressing a Legacy of Inequity

‘Mow to Own’: City gives property owners chance to own vacant lots just by mowing them

Revitalizing Neighborhoods: How Creative Placemaking Transforms Vacant Properties into Vibrant Community Spaces

Grounded Project Spotlight: CommunityCare

CommunityCare is a public stewardship program that provides residents with the tools, resources, and support to participate in greenspace maintenance work.

CommunityCare stewards actively maintain green and open spaces throughout their neighborhoods on their own time from April to October. This year the program is expanding to include advocacy work and a maintenance advisory committee.

Grounded provides stipends and incentives for residents of Homewood, Larimer, Wilkinsburg, and the Hill District to mow vacant lots, establish standards for the land in their neighborhoods, keep parcels up to code, plan and run litter clean-ups, attend community meetings, and advocate for the governments to improve the care of publicly owned vacant lots. Currently 22 community members are working with Grounded in this program.

Grounded Updates: Meet our Summer Interns

Kayla Brennan is our summer AmeriCorps Member!

A recent graduate of Duquesne University, Kayla is helping with our Land Stewardship Innovation program area with volunteer work days and biochar research.Read more about her here.


Jai Shah is Grounded Strategies Data Intern!

Jai just finished his first year at Carnegie Mellon University and is helping both the Land Use Policy and the Land Stewardship Innovation teams with data and coding projects. Read more about him here.


Shreya Mathur is Grounded’s Summer Design Intern!

Shreya is completing a Masters in Urban Design at Carnegie Mellon University, and is helping Grounded with community outreach, proposals and community feedback for a project in Braddock, East Pittsburgh, and North Braddock. Read more about her here.

Advocacy Network

Thank you for subscribing to our advocacy network, if you have not already done so please subscribe here.

Grounded is working to improve the condition of vacant lots by developing sustainable solutions that can address the environmental and racial injustices currently entrenched in our property management system. The lack of a comprehensive and unified strategy to care for vacant lots disproportionately affects low-income communities of color.

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

Join Our Advocacy Network!

Additional Resources 

URA Homeowner Assistance Program


Connect with Grounded




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