After almost a decade of inactivity, the Pittsburgh Land Bank is finally emerging as a land reuse tool for properties that are too small to be included in bigger government development initiatives.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA] board approved on Thursday the transfer of 17 smaller properties to the land bank’s inventory. The properties, some of which the URA has owned for decades, are then slated to be transferred to nine organizations across the city, potentially guaranteeing that they will not languish in the land bank’s inventory. 

The move represents a milestone in the city’s attempt to address more than 20,000 properties that are abandoned and incurring tax debt. In 2014, Pittsburgh formed the land bank to clear debt and taxes from abandoned properties that can then be sold, but for the majority of its existence it remained inactive. 

The land bank’s board of directors must still approve the transfers and Pittsburgh City Council will have to vote on several of the properties that fall within certain zoning areas. 

Read more: Property taxes divide Allegheny County executive candidates, and Philadelphia’s experience looms large

URA Executive Director Susheela Nemani-Stanger said that the transfers allow these smaller properties to undergo ownership change quickly by avoiding the more “extensive process” required under URA’s disposition rules. 

“We’ve identified these parcels that are discreet and have an end use,” Nemani-Stanger said. 

“We put our heads together and said, let’s utilize the land bank where we have end users,” she said. “Let’s take this batch and put it through the land bank and learn together how this simplifies the process and how we can use the land bank as a tool in the future. It could be the model.” 

Susheela Nemani-Stanger in the Urban Redevelopment Authority's office on Feb. 7, 2023. She became the URA's executive director earlier this year. (Photo by Eric Jankiewicz/PublicSource)
Susheela Nemani-Stanger in the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s office. (Photo by Eric Jankiewicz/PublicSource)

She also said that the organizations and people who will own the properties all have proven track records. The organizations include, among others, the Soil Sisters Plant Nursery, Hazelwood Initiative and the Allegheny Land Trust

Tom Mulholland, Allegheny Land Trust’s community conservation director, said the organization would use the properties it receives to preserve and expand greenspace, including community gardens in Perry South and Greenfield. 

Read more: As the legal ground shifts under race-specific programs, Pittsburgh inches toward a long-delayed review of policies

He said that these spaces help with flood water control and help increase the property value of surrounding real estate. 

The transfers represent the largest shift of property to the land bank, and end a summer of unprecedented activity in Pittsburgh land reclamation. In August, the council backed off its longstanding insistence on a high level of council oversight over land bank transactions by approving an tri-party agreement with the land bank and the URA.

Legislation preliminarily approved the week before would have required a council member to sign off whenever the land bank wanted to transfer property to the URA. That language was replaced with a requirement that the land bank simply notify the council clerk of any transfers.

For properties in redevelopment areas, council would still need to vote on the final transfer. 

Read more: URA amps up housing initiatives, focusing on Downtown office conversions and neighborhood development

Walk, don’t run 

Still, the land bank isn’t fully untethered as it lacks an agreement with the city, Allegheny County and the Pittsburgh Public Schools that would make it easier to relinquish tax debt and clear property titles.

Land bank Manager Sally Stadelman said the 17 transfers allow the land bank to test their process without the benefit of an agreement with the three taxing bodies. 

Pittsburgh Land Bank Manager Sally Stadelman during the Pittsburgh Land Bank meeting on Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo by Lilly Kubit/PublicSource)
Pittsburgh Land Bank Manager Sally Stadelman during the land bank board meeting on Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo by Lilly Kubit/PublicSource)

“We’re trying to crawl before we walk, walk before we run,” she said 

“We’re going to learn a lot from these sales and it’s going to help inform our future process where we hope to acquire these properties from the city directly in the future.”

In the meantime, she said, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Read more: Updated: Pittsburgh City Council approves land bank agreement, hoping for more property reuse

She pointed to another item on the URA’s board agenda for Thursday as an example of the work the land bank is helping complete now. 

In August, the land bank sold three lots on Flowers Avenue in Hazelwood to the Hazelwood Initiative. And on Thursday the URA board approved a grant agreement with Hazelwood Initiative, for up to $245,000, for the construction of a multifamily housing development that will be reserved for households of modest incomes for 15 years if the land bank approves the transfer. 

“We know across the board we want to see more affordable housing in the City of Pittsburgh,” Stadelman said. “There’s benefit to having a process that’s the right size for the project so that we can make sure we optimize the number of affordable housing. And we want to widen the pipelines to create more affordable housing.” 

Read more: URA board approves borrowing for affordable housing

Nemani-Stanger said this model presents a way forward so that the URA isn’t continuing to hold these properties in stasis. 

“We believe this will shrink the timeline,” Nemani-Stanger said. “We’re excited to be utilizing the land bank to simplify the process for city residents.”

She said that the “URA has significant property holdings and we want to be able to work collectively with city residents and partners to eliminate blight and hopefully this process is more simple and we hope to see it in the future.”

The land bank board is expected to approve the transfers as early as its Oct. 13 meeting.

New development is reflected in the windows of Cornerstone Village, on Larimer Avenue, which is part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Avenue’s of Hope Initiative, on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Larimer. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)
New development is reflected in the windows of Cornerstone Village, on Larimer Avenue, which is part of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Avenue’s of Hope Initiative, on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Larimer. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Second wave of grants washes over Avenues of Hope 

Centre Avenue is awash in millions of federal dollars as the URA approved its second round of funding to seven historically neglected business corridors in mostly Black neighborhoods across the city. 

Chart presented during the URA’s Sept. 14 board meeting depicting funds awarded versus those remaining for the seven business districts targeted by the Avenues of Hope initiative.

In June, the URA released its first round of funding to businesses as part of the $7 million American Rescue Plan Act-funded Avenues of Hope program. On Thursday the authority released a second round of funding with the Hill District’s Centre Avenue maxing out on its allotted funding. At the other end of funding availability sits Chartiers Avenue corridor, which has only claimed slightly more than 20% of its allocation. 

Read more: We, the youth, mapped our feelings as we lived our lives in Homewood. The city must do better for our neighborhood.

Talia O’Brien, the URA’s neighborhood business district program analyst, said that the second round garnered 39 applications. She said that during August “we conducted extensive review of community input” along with internal and city department reviews. 

This led to narrowing awards to 15 organizations for a total of $1,215,962. Each grantee can get up to $200,000 for their business. 

The URA is currently accepting applications, through Oct. 13, for a third round of grants.

Eric Jankiewicz is PublicSource’s economic development reporter, and can be reached at or on Twitter @ericjankiewicz.

We don't have paywalls — but your support helps us bridge crucial information gaps.

Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're glad to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.

However, only .01% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.

Your donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.

Eric Jankiewicz is a reporter focused on housing and economic development for PublicSource. A native New Yorker, Eric moved to Pittsburgh in 2017 and has since fallen in love with his adopted city, even...