NY Must Make Land Banks A Priority

Governor Cuomo signed the Land Bank Act into law in 2011, empowering local communities to use land banks to proactively address blighted and abandoned properties that affect their residents. There are now 23 land banks throughout New York. Land Banks with a proven solution for strengthening communities, revitalizing neighborhoods, supporting local economic development, creating more affordable housing and protecting the environment.

The Chautauqua County Land Bank generates approximately $10 in return for every $1.00 of property value received from the County through their tax foreclosure property contributions. This has leveraged $1,828,000 in incentivized private renovation investment, $3,310,000 in other grant funds, and has returned over $3.4 million in taxable property value to the tax rolls. The 88 properties sold to date in Chautauqua County have been a stabilizing force to improve neighborhoods around the County. Statewide, Land Banks have leveraged over $75 million in private investment, renovated over 400 structures, sold over 650 properties, and demolished over 480 blighted structures.

However, NY Land Banks have no committed state funding beyond the end of 2018. The scale of the problems they seek to address — vacant and abandoned properties — is immense and has been decades in the making. Lack of recurring, predictable funding forces Land Banks to limit the number of problem properties they can address. This incentivizes short-term planning limits projects over longer-term (and more impactful) strategic planning (including “land banking”), thus curtailing the full potential of Land Banks intended under State law.

New York Land Banks need certainty in funding to commit their energies to neighborhood revitalization. In Ohio, land banks have secured recurring, predictable public funding; they are recognized nationwide as the most effective at achieving their mission — eliminating blight and returning abandoned properties to productive use.

Financial support for Land Banks is consistent with Governor Cuomo’s focus on revitalization of Upstate NY’s urban cores and complements other innovative state programs such as the Restore New York Communities Initiative, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and the Upstate Revitalization Initiative. While these programs provide ‘last-in’ funds for gap financing, Land Banks are typically the first-in, proactively intervening with abandoned properties to buy the time needed to develop a plan for their redevelopment — plans that later leverage other state programs.

Abandoned and blighted properties prevent new home buyers and businesses from investing and moving into older neighborhoods. The blight depresses property values, prevents existing homeowners from growing wealth through home equity, limit the ability of investors to finance new businesses or make improvements in these areas. These decaying properties create stress on the local public safety resources and limit the ability of local governments to generate vital property taxes.

New York state has the opportunity to become a national leader in one of the most effective approaches to combating blight. The cost of doing nothing is too high a price for NY residents to pay.

Gina C. Paradis is the executive director of the Chautauqua County Land Bank.