May 24, 2022 - News

Philly at risk of losing hundreds of community gardens and green spaces

City Councilmember Kendra Brooks

City Councilmember Kendra Brooks. Photo: Nigel Thomson/Getty Images

A number of Philadelphia's community gardens are at risk of going away.

Why it matters: These lots are primarily located in low-income, Black and Latino neighborhoods in North and West Philadelphia.

  • Community gardens can improve food access, beautify and revitalize public spaces and even decrease violence, per the CDC.

Catch up fast: In 1997, the city bundled together roughly 30,000 tax liens and sold them to U.S. Bank to raise money for school funding. But investors weren't able to collect on many of the liens, eventually leading to thousands of vacant and abandoned properties scattered across Philly.

  • In the years since, residents have maintained several properties and turned hundreds of areas into community gardens and green spaces.
  • U.S. Bank, meanwhile, has been sending the abandoned properties to sheriff's sales in an attempt to sell them all by October 2023.

The latest: City Councilmember Kendra Brooks is spearheading a campaign to keep roughly 500 sites her office identified as gardens, side yards or potential affordable housing locations that haven't been sold yet.

  • Brooks wants Philly to buy back the liens through a $10 million budget line item. The city can acquire the land and then prioritize selling to community groups.

Yes, but: There's not a clear path to make that a reality yet.

  • Options include tapping the city's unused American Rescue Plan money or revenue from the new property tax assessments in neighborhoods that have seen rapid development.

Of note: Councilmembers Jamie Gauthier, Helen Gym, Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, and Katherine Gilmore Richardson support the proposal.

What they're saying: "We're talking about communities that have been intentionally disinvested in. So when a community takes a hold and decides to do something to empower itself, the government should make sure it honors that," Brooks told Axios.

  • Council President Darrell Clarke said the proposal would be considered during the city's upcoming budget process.
  • Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, a law firm representing U.S. Bank, didn't return to Axios' request for comment.

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