Land Banking

In 2011, GOVERNOR CUOMO SIGNED THE LAND BANK ACT. Land Banks are an essential tool for turning vacant and abandoned properties across New York into assets again. Today, New York State’s nascent land banks are off and running, employing an array of creative strategies to return problem properties to productive use across New York.

See our recent blog about the upstart Newburgh Community Land Bank

See also the Center for Community Progress’s blog on New York’s land banks:
Two and a half years in, land banking takes shape in New York State

See Empire State Development’s(ESD) guidelines for Land Banks

On May 15, 2011, the following Albany Times Union editorial, authored by Empire State Future’s Peter Fleischer and Jordan Talbot, makes the case for land banking legislation and land banks in New York State. Once you read this and are convinced, you can read the actual bill.

Abandoned houses and vacant properties blight New York’s urban landscape from Brookhaven to Newburgh to Troy, from Schenectady to Syracuse to Niagara Falls. Poorly thought out land use decisions have helped perpetuate an exodus from our historic urban and suburban centers. History has been unkind to these places.

Vacant and abandoned properties present myriad problems for New York. They signal disinvestment and disrepair to neighbors and passers-by alike — telling people that it’s OK to litter in front of them, scrawl graffiti on their walls or use them as drug havens — leading to a spiral of decay that gradually claims whole neighborhoods.

The problems they pose are not only aesthetic. Research in Philadelphia has demonstrated that the presence of a single vacant or abandoned property on a block decreases surrounding home values by an average of $6,720. More abandonment means even greater home value loss.

When properties become a threat to public health and safety, municipalities must step up and bear the costs. As reported by the Times on Oct. 10, when a pair of duplexes on Third Street in Albany began to crumble after decades of neglect, the city cleared the rubble and bore the costs.

Cost estimates from around the state for demolitions of residential single-family and small multifamily structures range from $15,000 to $25,000 per structure. Short of demolition as a last resort, the cost of boarding up broken windows, clearing sidewalks and removing trash also add up for municipalities. These properties are a further drain on already weak urban finances.

In cities across New York, these properties pose a threat to the future. According to the 2010 census, Buffalo has held on to its title as the most vacant city in the state, with 15.7 percent of the city’s habitable housing units vacant. That’s despite a push from the mayor’s office that has led to the demolition of more than 4,000 structures since 2006.

Other New York cities are facing vacancy rates that are nearly as daunting.

Then there’s the impact of the foreclosure crisis on many first-ring suburbs from Western New York to Long Island, areas that have recently seen housing booms now face rising vacancy rates as well.

Cities have not been idle during this slow-building crisis. Many have been working to address the problem. Plans such as Project Green in Rochester and Blueprint Buffalo specifically target vacant and abandoned properties. Many municipalities have pursued code enforcement and vacant building registries but have not seen the needed success.

There needs to be a stronger tool that gives communities the ability to fight back against the surge of disinvestment.

In an American Institute of Architects report issued for the city of Albany by the Sustainable Design Assessment Team in 2007, one of the primary recommendations was creation of a land bank.

Land banks have been gaining popularity in the past decade, particularly in Rust Belt states such as Michigan and Ohio. Land banks are able to acquire property, clear titles and dispose of land so the parcels again generate tax revenue. The best national example is the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Mich., a city of 102,000, people down from 190,000 in 1960. This organization, formed in 2002, has developed innovative programs to facilitate the reuse of more than 4,000 formerly vacant and abandoned properties including side-lot transfer (more than 200 parcels), community gardens, housing rehabilitation and foreclosure avoidance (serving more than 1,300 families). Since its inception, this land bank has helped real property values in Flint to increase by more than $100 million.

In 2011, The NYS Land Banks Act was passed allowing for the creation of 10 land banks in NYS.  The law allows  tax foreclosing governmental units (i.e. cities, counties, etc.) the option to create an entity with proven tools to deal with vacant and abandoned properties.Read the legislation (A. 373-A, S. 663-A) here.

Land Banks have the ability to clear titles and forgive back taxes,  expediting the process of bringing properties in New York back to market.  Properties can be held and combined into larger tracts to make development more attractive for investors. Giving more control to local governments means that strategies can be tailored to meet the needs of communities with different conditions, needs and goals.

Land banks can help make our urban and town centers more attractive for the next generation of New Yorkers, providing them with walkable, livable communities close to amenities and less dependent on cars and highways, all the characteristics they want in a community that New York has been failing to deliver.

Blight, too long a given, is not inevitable. Land banks, proven effective in other states and cities, have helped to revitalize decaying communities. New York today has many towns, cities and counties in need of just such a fix — the power to turn their most distressed spaces into valuable assets.


Also see our blog about the need for land banks:

The Case for Land Banks

And check out this essential resource for reclaiming vacant and abandoned properties:

Center for Community Progress: Turning Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places