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Kendra Brooks at the launch of the Restored Community Land campaign in West Philly. Photo: Laura Carvajal/AL DÍA News.
Kendra Brooks at the launch of the Restored Community Land campaign in West Philly. Photo: Laura Carvajal/AL DÍA News.

Kendra Brooks launches Restore Community Land campaign to bring land back to Philly residents

The issue dates back to 1997, when the city sold off 33,000 properties to a private lien holder. They are now owned by US Bank.

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“This campaign to restore community land is about protecting green spaces, building public safety, and prioritizing affordable housing. Proud to stand with Councilmember Kendra Brooks and community leaders today in support of racial and environmental justice,” Councilmember Helen Gym wrote in a tweet on Monday, May 23.

Earlier on Monday, Gym joined colleague Brooks in supporting her campaign to protect sacred spaces, such as community gardens, and restore the rightful ownership of this land to the community members who tended to its soil for over two decades, sometimes even longer. 

Partnering with Iglesias Gardens, Neighborhood Gardens Trust, Philadelphia Legal Assistance and more, Brooks was at Viola Street Garden in East Parkside, to announce the plan to fight back against the predatory online process of selling “vacant lots.” 

The issue facing Black and Brown community members today dates back to 1997, when the city sold off 33,000 properties to a private lien holder and these properties are now owned by US Bank. 

This has allowed for undemocratic practices to continue serving the few at the expense of many loyal Philadelphia residents who have maintained green spaces for their neighbors, providing each other with nutritious food, improved mental health, and many more benefits. 

Organizers from Iglesias Garden, based in Kensington, have been urging the City to stop all online sheriff sales and buy back all the US Bank lien lots. 

“Preserving these lots are important to halting gentrification and keeping land in the community,” Iglesias Garden said in a statement. 

For years, US Bank has allowed thousands of vacant, abandoned and delinquent properties to remain in limbo, awaiting final sale. In the meantime, community members took control of the land. But since sheriff’s sales resumed last April, hundreds more properties were posted for sale, including community spaces, gardens, farms, and treasured side yards. 

US Bank plans to sell every property by October 2023, so the campaign to restore the land is urgent. Hundreds of these lots are currently in use as gardens, side yards and open spaces. 

In February 2020, a study conducted by University of Virginia Health System found that appropriately designed and maintained green spaces have the potential to directly reduce violent crime and gun violence — issues that plague Philadelphia. 

An additional study, which came from researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, along with researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, affirmed the finding. 

Researchers discovered that the “full and basic cleaning and greening interventions” on 541 vacant lots in Philadelphia significantly reduced violent crime by as much as 30%. It also reduced people’s fear of going outside due to safety concerns by 58%, and more people used these outside spaces, an increase of 76%. 

Brooks and the advocates who have partnered with City Council, aim to bring humanity back into the decision making process around land ownership and maintenance. 

Sonia, a block captain in Nicetown, has cleaned and decorated the only green parcel on her block for over 10 years. She would love to be able to build bridges for the eldery neighbors so they can enjoy a shady spot. Sonia also dreams of building a swing set so the children can have a safe place to play. 

Sonia’s lot is scheduled to be sold on Oct. 8, 2022. She is going to attend the sale, but worries that the money she and her neighbors have pooled together will not be enough to compete with developers. 

“Today I stand with community members from across the city to Restore Community Land. This fight is 25 years in the making. We are not backing down until the land is in community hands,” Brooks said.

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This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.
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