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Community gardens say ‘unfair’ Philly Land Bank practice makes preservation harder

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Willow Zef volunteers at the César Andreu Iglesias Community Garden, established by Philly Socialists in 2012 near Lawrence and Norris streets. (Angela Gervasi for WHYY)

People fighting to save community gardens in fast-developing neighborhoods say groups should not have to take on mortgages to get land.

By Sophia Schmidt
March 14, 2023


The 30-year self-amortizing mortgage is a tool to prevent land recipients from flipping properties for development and to give the Land Bank recourse if properties are not maintained “in good order,” Land Bank Executive Director Angel Rodriguez said during the agency’s board meeting Tuesday.

But the groups protesting the practice argue the mortgages create unnecessary financial complexity for small nonprofits, requiring additional accounting and possibly hurting nonprofits’ ability to obtain loans or grants while a large liability appears on their balance sheets.

“If we’re attaching perpetual open space deed restrictions on this land, no, the value of the land doesn’t go up. Yet we carry the debt at the market price for the land across 30 years,” said Joshua Warner, co-executive director of the nonprofit that runs Life Do Grow Farm, at Tuesday’s meeting. “That is patently unfair.”

Depending on the terms of the mortgages, the Land Bank can also take back ownership of parcels during the 30-year term if conditions — like keeping parcels clear of debris — aren’t met, McKenzie said.

“We’re very, very wary of the possibility of a garden being yanked at someone’s discretion,” said Alexander Miller, with a community garden in the Kingsessing neighborhood called Farm on Florence.

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