Land Recycling Leads to Neighborhood Revitalization

When stakeholders came together to create the first Community Plan in 1999, they outlined a vision for East Liberty that included maintaining and improving housing on residential blocks. Disinvestment had led to trash littering the streets, blocks of abandoned homes and very few home sales in the neighborhood.

The Problem
“No one wants to buy a house next to an abandoned property,” said Kendall Pelling, Acquisitions Manager at East Liberty Development, Inc.

Working with neighborhood partners, ELDI worked in 2002 to develop a strategy to address the problem of tax delinquent and abandoned properties in the neighborhood.

The Strategy
In order to address the problem of tax delinquent and abandoned properties, ELDI had to acquire all the abandoned properties in East Liberty. By working with the City of Pittsburgh through its Land Reserve, ELDI acquired all 59 such properties.

The properties were “mothballed,” or boarded up until the right time for development.

The second part in the strategy was to develop affordable and market-rate for sale properties. Third, ELDI worked with developers to “flip” houses. Instead of properties going to slumlords, developers and homeowners alike were given the opportunity to renovate homes.

The final step in the process was to create “test drive” properties. By providing good, quality rental units, neighbors can “test drive” East Liberty before purchasing a home.

The strategy worked. Of the original 59 abandoned properties, 76 percent of those have been “permanently recycled”: 18 properties now belong to new homeowners, 31 are affordable rental units and 12 properties are now community gardens or side lots.

Not only has this strategy given homes and garden space to neighborhood residents, it has increased the City’s tax base. In 2002, these 59 properties were providing $0 in tax revenue to the City of Pittsburgh. In 2012, the City will receive $53,210 in property taxes from the properties. It is projected that these properties will provide $95,000 in tax
revenue to the City in 2013 and beyond.

“I used to say, ‘Imagine East Liberty with no abandoned properties,’” said Pelling. “Now I say, ‘Come and see!’ You don’t have to imagine anymore.”