By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – City Council President Darrell Clarke is pitching a plan in which the city could discount or even give away thousands of vacant parcels, so long as the recipients develop new properties on that land.
Council president Clarke introduced a package of five measures to create new incentives for developers to take control of the more than 60,000 vacant parcels or abandoned properties, much of which is owned by the city, in order to spur development.
“There’s a high level of vacancy. There’s a high level of public (city) ownership. And there’s a high level of delinquency. So what we want to do is create various levels of incentives for individuals to come in, purchase those properties and build on those properties in a timely fashion,” says Clarke.
One measure would create “development districts,” neighborhoods with high levels of vacant properties, and would allow the city to give steep discounts on those parcels if the new owner completes construction within two years.
Another bill authorizes the city to give away parcels for virtually nothing so long as the developer promises to create affordable housing and job opportunities for low- and middle-income residents.
“You should be in a position to get that property for free, for nominal consideration, to build affordable units,” says Clarke.
He believes the resulting developments, after the expiration of the ten-year tax abatement on new housing, could create upwards of $125 million more in annual property tax revenue.
“Long term, it will create an environment where we’ll ultimately be able to reduce everybody’s tax burden, because we’ll have more properties paying into the tax properties of the city of Philadelphia,” Clarke explains.
He points out that not only are the vacant parcels and properties not generating tax revenue, the city ends up spending about $20 million annually to abate the properties.
His five measures will be debated in committee this spring, as will a separate measure being pushed by councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez to create a city ‘land bank’ through which all vacant properties would be sold.