News Release: Faculty Experts, Finance and Economics, Law, Research

Jun. 29,  2011

Land Banks Key Tool in Foreclosure Crisis, Says Housing Expert

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Communities across the country are facing unprecedented numbers of vacant and abandoned properties due to the foreclosure crisis, but Emory University housing law expert  Frank S. Alexander says these empty lots and unoccupied buildings hold the potential for fueling economic recovery, driving community development and strengthening real estate markets.

Alexander’s new book, “Land Banks and Land Banking,” offers public officials and community leaders a step-by-step guide for taking control of problem properties and leveraging them to spur smart development and meet community needs. Published by the Flint, Michigan-based Center for Community Progress, the book is available free at www.communityprogress.net.

“It is not enough to create a strong program of boarding up properties,” says Alexander. “A new set of tools is needed to deal with large-scale vacancies and abandonment.”

Alexander says that land banks—public authorities created to efficiently acquire, hold, manage and develop tax-foreclosed property—have emerged as a key tool for urban planners, especially in response to the mortgage crisis. Land banks give communities control of the unused land resources within their borders, he says, which can then create “opportunities for new development when the private market says it isn’t possible.”

Land banks must be “created locally, designed locally and managed locally in order for the property that is coming into the land bank to be consistent with the problems facing the community,” says Alexander.

And while vacant and abandoned properties are a nationwide problem, there are distinct differences among communities. “Detroit’s inventory may be 30,000-40,000 properties,” says Alexander, “but it’s a different kind of inventory than Miami’s inventory of condominiums, or Charlotte, North Carolina’s inventory of partially built subdivisions, or Stockton, California’s inventory of multi-family units.” 

Alexander’s first book on the subject, “Land Bank Authorities: A Guide for the Creation and Operation of Local Land Banks,” is considered the field’s seminal text. When it was published in 2005, there were just a handful of land banks across the country, concentrated in cities with large inventories of tax-delinquent properties. 

Today there are 79 land banking initiatives across the country, with a number of additional land banking bills up for consideration in state legislatures, including New York and Georgia.

The vacant properties now being acquired, developed, restored and/or resold by land banking authorities have already catalyzed millions of dollars in new private investments, including more than $60 million dollars in Flint, Michigan, through the Genesee County Land Bank. Alexander, the Sam Nunn Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law and a co-founder of the Center for Community Progress, is the author or editor of eight books and more than 40 articles on real estate finance and community redevelopment. 

The first copies of “Land Banks and Land Banking” were distributed to participants at the sixth annual Land Bank Conference held in Detroit, June 5-7. 

For information on the Center for Community Progress, go to  www.communityprogress.net or call 877.542.4842. 

Originally posted on June 23, 2010

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