David Clarke pulls up the newly launched website from Pittsburgh’s Department of Finance and points out all the different ways residents can search for properties.
“You can either enter a parcel number or a street you’re interested in,” said Clarke, business intelligence manager for the city’s finance department. “Or we just have featured properties up here that we think people would be particularly interested in.”
Click any one of the nearly 3,089 properties crowding the site’s map view and a little bubble pops up with lot number, zoning information and other data. Visually presenting all the city’s for-sale properties in one place is something Director of Finance Paul Leger has wanted to do for a long time. It wasn’t until recently that advances in GIS technology made it simple.
“A lot of what we did was clean up that list to determine which ones are really available and which ones are not,” he said. “The only properties that are here are ones that we do believe are viable sales.”
City-owned lots throughout Pittsburgh cost money to maintain and don’t contribute to the tax base. Leger said he hopes those sales will reinvigorate the city.
“If you have a lot of vacant lots, if you have dilapidated housing that could be taken over by somebody and improved, that makes your neighborhood a whole lot more livable and a whole lot more desirable," he said.
He acknowledged developers could use the site to snap up lots and subsequently price people out of neighborhoods.
“Remember, this is a sales process,” said Leger. “And I often describe this department as blind salesmen. We don’t have an agenda because we’re not allowed to ... In other words, I can’t say to somebody, you can’t buy this property because I think you’re too rich.”
The delicate balance between sales that benefit residents and sales that don’t is one that City Council and the mayor may have to address, he said.
Each listing contains a link to a “Request to Purchase” application. Eventually the form will be live, but for the moment residents must print a copy and either scan and email it, mail it in, or drop it off in person.
The department has already seen a spike in interest; some days not a single person inquires about buying a city-owned property. On the site’s first full day, Leger said nearly 50 people did.
“It’s not instant auction,” he said. “We put it through what is the equivalent of a credit check, and then it is sent to the URA who goes through recent sales to actually set a price on this.”
It takes four to six weeks to process an application. If a lot draws more than one application, an open bidding process begins.
Within the next six months, the Department of Finance hopes to combine their site with Burgh’s Eye View, which provides even more information about properties.