Land Banking Solution for Vacant, Abandonded Properties

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Frank S. Alexander

By April L. Bogle

The federal government needs to play a critical role in the use of land banking programs to alleviate one of the consequences of the nation’s mortgage foreclosure crisis – vacant and abandoned properties, says Emory Law professor Frank S. Alexander, one the nation’s leading experts on local government land banks.
In a paper released Oct. 29 by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program, Alexander says that more and more communities are "stressed by the catastrophic mortgage foreclosure crisis and the long-run decline of older, industrial regions," and are struggling to deal with vacant and abandoned properties. Read paper

"To alleviate this drag on national prosperity, the federal government should advance policies that support regional and local land banking for the 21st century,” writes Alexander, who directs the Project on Affordable Housing and Community Development at Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion (CSLR). Alexander, CSLR’s founding director, is the author of the leading text in the country on land banking, Land Bank Authorities:  A Guide for the Creation and Operation of Local Land Banks.
Land banking enables local governments to acquire vacant and abandoned properties and convert them to productive use or hold them for long-term strategic public purposes. Common re-uses of such property are affordable housing, mixed-use developments, or mixed-income housing, all provided by not-for-profit entities.
The Emergency Assistance Act in the Home and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, passed in July, recognized land banking as a federal concern and funded it with $3.92 billion, but Alexander says neither the bill’s clarity for implementation nor the amount of funding it provides are enough.
“It does not come close to meeting the costs associated with the two million foreclosures projected by the end of 2008 and the local revenues lost from vacant and abandoned properties,” he writes, adding that earlier drafts of the bill called for $15 billion in loans and grants.
“The role of land banking is not to replace or supplant the open market; it steps in when there is a failure of market conditions,” says Alexander.
Alexander reports that during the mortgage crisis of the past two years, foreclosures doubled nationwide -- in August 2008 alone, one of every 416 households received a foreclosure notice. And, almost 600,000 vacant, for-sale homes were added to weak real estate markets. This decline has compounded the long-term problem of vacancies and abandonments in older, industrial regions.
“When left unaddressed, these problem properties impose severe costs on neighborhoods, including reduced property values and tax revenues; increased arson and crime; and greater demands for police surveillance and response,” explains Alexander.
In addition to capitalizing local and regional land banking, Alexander recommends that federal policy provide incentives for reforming local code enforcement and state tax foreclosure procedures, and incentives for communities to develop inter-jurisdictional entities that will allow them to address property issues across city and county boundary lines.
“Forty years ago, land banking was encouraged to be a part of federal housing and urban development policy. It is time for it to be implemented. The need is greater than ever; the time is now; and the opportunity is here,” he concludes.

Download the full PDF of Land Bank Authorities here.


The Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings was created in 1996 to provide decision makers with cutting-edge research and policy ideas for improving the health and prosperity of cities and metropolitan areas including their component cities, suburbs, and rural areas.  Learn more at  
The Blueprint for American Prosperity is a multi-year initiative to promote an economic agenda for the nation that builds on the assets and centrality of America’s metropolitan areas. Grounded in empirical research and analysis, the Blueprint offers an integrated policy agenda and specific federal reforms designed to give metropolitan areas the tools they need to generate economically productive growth, to build a strong and diverse middle class, and to grow in environmentally sustainable ways. Learn more about the Blueprint at<wbr></wbr>publications/detail/793/

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