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Alexander shares lessons learned from U.S. foreclosure crisis with global audience
By Patti Ghezzi | Emory Law | Sep 21, 2012 12:09:00 AM

CSLR Founding Director Frank S. Alexander offered lessons learned from the U.S. mortgage foreclosure crisis to a global audience of policymakers and activists during the United Nations Habitat World Urban Forum (WUF) in Naples, Italy, in early September.

“Participating in this World Urban Forum was a great honor for me, and a wonderful opportunity to learn about the urban policy challenges facing metropolitan areas around the world.  My own role was simply to share some of the lessons we are learning as we work in cities across the United States in addressing the growing inventories of vacant, abandoned, and substandard properties,” said Alexander, Sam Nunn Professor of Law and co-founder of the Center for Community Progress.

Alexander, who leads CSLR’s Project on Affording Housing and Community Development, has been at the center of the mortgage crisis conversation since his Congressional testimony in 2008. That testimony led to the inclusion of land banking -- a process that allows communities to acquire, develop and resell abandoned buildings and homes so that they don’t create more deterioration and destabilization – into the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.

Alexander was called upon to take part in the five-day WUF, an international gathering dedicated to addressing critical social and economic challenges of cities, so that other countries can learn from U.S. successes and failures, particularly surrounding land banking.  During his talk, “Building Local Capacity: Public Sector and Legal Reforms,” he shared five lessons:

1.     Vacant and abandoned properties impose costs on everyone. People lose shelter, taxpayers face increased public service costs, and property values decline. “This is not a victimless crime,” he said.

2.     Know your inventory. Identify the properties, locations, concentrations and reasons for the decline.

3.     Be aware of irrational mortgage and capital markets. Secondary mortgage markets don’t act rationally, mortgagees don’t take necessarily take responsibility after the owner leaves, and markets are slow to recognize declining values.

4.     Enforce the rules against the property, not the owners. “Don’t chase rabbits. You must have efficient and effective code and property tax enforcements,” he said.

5.     Fix it up, pay it up, or give it up. Get control of the property to fix it, targeting the worst and the easiest first. Land banks can be set up to make this possible.

The nation’s leading authority on land banking and neighborhood stabilization, Alexander was one of five renowned speakers discussing various strategies for how to “bring back vacant housing.” Others included George McCarthy, Ford Foundation; Eileen Fitzgerald, NeighborWorks America; and György Sümeghy, Habitat for Humanity Hungary. Solomon Greene, Open Society Foundations, organized the session The WUF is hosted every two years by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-HABITAT.

Read more about Alexander’s work inEmory Magazine

See Alexander’s book,Lands Banks and Land Banking