In Philadelphia, vacant property redevelopment isn't about demand

A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that Philadelphia is owed almost $500 million in delinquent property taxes on 111,000 vacant properties, the most of any large city in the nation. Older industrial cities are no stranger to vacant property problems: places like Detroit and Cleveland see neighborhood stabilization efforts as vital to urban regeneration and are beginning to institute plans to effectively reuse vacant land. But Philadelphia, perhaps buoyed by the revitalization of its downtown and relatively stable population, has for a long time mostly ignored its vast parcels of derelict homes and abandoned lots in favor of easing potential penalties on homeowners.

Interestingly, the main problem Philadelphia faces over its vacant land is apparently not so much related to demand (as is the case in many Rust Belt cities) but rather a lack of political will. Whereas the critical masses of vacant property in cities across the midwest have aroused legislative action in the form of public landbanks and increased sheriff’s sales, in Philadelphia the city seems to have shrugged off responsibility for managing vacant land. One city official even protested that “there’s a great deal of concern that we not take on responsibility for more property before we demonstrate the ability to manage the property we have in a more effective way.” Even so, Philadelphia officials should recognize the paramount importance of the city’s housing market in today’s economic climate: if the demand is there, why stand in its way?

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