New York State Gets on the Land Bank Train

Three years ago, New York state passed land banking legislation, but it went down to veto by Gov. David Paterson, who said he supported land banks, but argued that the […]

Three years ago, New York state passed land banking legislation, but it went down to veto by Gov. David Paterson, who said he supported land banks, but argued that the bill contained some technical flaws in implementation, such as lack of local control or ability to raise funds.

Happily, that veto paved the way for a much stronger land banking bill that has again just passed both houses of the New York legislature. Gov. Andrew Cuomo made land banking part of his urban agenda, so he is expected to support the bill.

This time around many things are different about the land banking proposal, says James Cuozzo of the office of Assemblyman Sam Hoyt from Buffalo, the sponsor and motivating force behind both the current bill and the 2008 version. The changes address former Gov. Paterson’s critiques head-on. The new bill:

  • has no state fiscal impact; rather than asking for state funding, several mechanisms for land banks to derive funding are included in the bill’s language. (Presumably this means Cuomo won’t be tempted to repeat his inexplicable vetoing of housing counseling funds.)
  • allows up to ten land banks; the bill three years ago allowed only three. (I still can’t figure out why the limits either time. I’ve been told only that this time it was an amendment suggested by the Ways and Means committee. But I can easily count more than 10 urban or semi-urban areas in the state that could use one.)
  • allows any “foreclosing governmental unit,” or partnership of multiple levels of governments to create a land bank; the previous bill limited it to counties.
  • has land banks created by local ordinance, rather than as subsidiaries of the state economic development corporation.
  • has several more partners supporting it, and benefited from drafting help from the Center for Community Progress (not yet in existence in 2008).

Hopefully the land banks that are created will involve regional partnerships, despite historical city-county power struggles in places like Buffalo and a home-rule tendency throughout the state. Regional is the scale at which land banks have the most strength, make the most sense, and can cross-subsidize their work in more disinvested areas using sales of tax foreclosed properties in wealthier areas.

“I represent the city in New York State with the most vacant and abandoned housing,” said Hoyt (D-Buffalo, Grand Island). “This bill represents an opportunity to turn around Buffalo’s image as an old, manufacturing city that has lost jobs and population, and transform it into an area that has creatively reused and redeveloped its vacant land. Land banks represent the opportunity to boost housing markets statewide by reusing land for green space, housing developments or public works projects.”

The city of Buffalo has an estimated 13,000 vacant parcels, 5,000 vacant structures and an estimated 22,290 vacant residential units. Syracuse and Albany are reportedly quite interested in forming land banks, while some folks in New York City are trying to figure out how a land bank might need to operate differently in such a high-priced market.

Photo, from Buffalo, by Andrew Deci, CC-BY-NC-SA.

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