Here are a few cities known for having active land banks (as of 2021):
- St. Louis, Missouri: The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) of St. Louis is one of the oldest and largest land banks in the country. It was established in the 1970s and has played a significant role in redeveloping vacant properties.
- Cleveland, Ohio: The Cuyahoga Land Bank in Cleveland is another notable land bank. It was created in 2009 and has been involved in acquiring and repurposing thousands of properties in the Cleveland area.
- Detroit, Michigan: The Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) is known for its extensive land bank program. Established in 2008, the DLBA has been acquiring and managing vacant properties with the goal of revitalizing neighborhoods.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia Land Bank was established in 2013 and is one of the largest land banks in the country. It aims to return vacant and tax-delinquent properties to productive use and promote community development.
In Saint Louis, the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) is a prominent land bank program that operates in the city:
- Purpose: The primary purpose of the St. Louis LRA is to acquire and reutilize vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties within the city. By taking ownership of these properties, the LRA aims to facilitate their redevelopment and return them to productive use.
- Authority: The LRA operates as a quasi-governmental entity with the power to acquire properties through various means, including tax foreclosure, donations, and purchases. It holds these properties until they can be transferred to responsible and capable owners for redevelopment.
- Property Disposition: The St. Louis LRA has offered several programs to facilitate the disposition of properties. These include the Side Lot Program, which allows adjacent property owners to purchase vacant lots, and the Building Stabilization Program, which provides incentives for rehabilitating vacant buildings. The LRA also sells properties for development, encourages partnerships with developers, and promotes community involvement.
- Revitalization Efforts: The LRA’s activities contribute to the broader revitalization efforts in St. Louis. By reducing blight, promoting investment, and supporting community development initiatives, the LRA aims to improve the quality of life for residents and enhance the overall vitality of neighborhoods.
- Collaboration: The St. Louis LRA collaborates with various stakeholders, including community organizations, developers, and other government agencies, to maximize the impact of its land reutilization efforts. These partnerships help facilitate the redevelopment of properties and align with the city’s overall development goals.
While the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) of St. Louis has played a significant role in revitalizing neighborhoods and addressing vacant properties, it has also faced some criticisms. Here are a few common criticisms associated with land banks:
- Lack of Transparency: Critics argue that the LRA lacks transparency in its decision-making processes and property disposition. Some community members have raised concerns about a lack of clear criteria for property sales or transfers, leading to perceived favoritism or inconsistent practices.
- Slow Disposition Process: Critics have pointed out that the LRA’s disposition process can be slow and cumbersome. Delays in transferring properties to responsible owners or developers can result in extended periods of vacancy and blight, hindering neighborhood revitalization efforts.
- Limited Community Engagement: Some community members have expressed dissatisfaction with the level of community engagement and input in the LRA’s decision-making. Critics argue that more opportunities for public participation and collaboration could lead to better outcomes that align with the needs and aspirations of local residents.
- Property Maintenance Issues: Vacant properties under the control of the LRA have occasionally faced maintenance issues, such as inadequate upkeep, illegal dumping, or unauthorized occupancy. Critics argue that the LRA should improve its management practices to prevent further deterioration and blight in neighborhoods.
- Displacement Concerns: In some instances, the sale or transfer of properties by the LRA has raised concerns about potential displacement or gentrification. Critics argue that more attention should be given to ensuring that affordable housing options are preserved or created during the redevelopment process.
It’s worth noting that these criticisms do not diminish the overall importance and positive impact of the St. Louis LRA’s work. However, they reflect areas where improvements or changes have been suggested to enhance the effectiveness and community engagement of the land bank program.
Best practices for land banks can vary based on local context and specific goals, but here are some commonly recognized practices that can help land banks operate effectively:
- Clear Mission and Goals: Land banks should have a well-defined mission and clear goals that align with the needs and priorities of the community they serve. This includes addressing blight, promoting affordable housing, supporting economic development, and improving neighborhood stability.
- Transparent Operations: Land banks should prioritize transparency and open communication. This includes providing accessible information about their operations, property disposition processes, and decision-making criteria. Regular reporting and public engagement opportunities can help build trust and involve the community in decision-making.
- Strategic Planning: Developing and regularly updating a strategic plan can guide the land bank’s activities and prioritize its efforts. A strategic plan should outline short-term and long-term goals, target areas for intervention, and identify key partnerships and resources needed to achieve those goals.
- Partnerships and Collaboration: Land banks should actively seek partnerships and collaborate with various stakeholders, including local government agencies, community organizations, developers, and residents. Collaboration can help leverage resources, share expertise, and ensure that land bank activities align with broader community development goals.
- Community Engagement: Meaningful community engagement is crucial for land banks to understand local needs, incorporate community input, and build support for their initiatives. Regularly involving residents, hosting public meetings, and seeking input on property disposition plans can help ensure that land bank activities reflect community priorities.
- Data Management and Analysis: Land banks should maintain comprehensive data systems to track property inventory, acquisitions, dispositions, and outcomes. Collecting and analyzing data on the impact of their work can help measure success, identify areas for improvement, and inform strategic decision-making.
- Property Stewardship: Effective land banks prioritize property stewardship by ensuring proper maintenance, preventing vandalism, and mitigating safety risks associated with vacant properties. Implementing strategies for property upkeep and addressing code violations can help prevent further deterioration and blight.
- Equitable Development: Land banks should actively consider equity in their operations, with a focus on promoting fair housing, preventing displacement, and ensuring that the benefits of redevelopment are shared equitably across communities. This can involve strategies such as preserving affordable housing units, supporting local minority-owned businesses, and providing pathways for local residents to access homeownership or rental opportunities.
- Continuous Evaluation and Adaptation: Land banks should regularly evaluate their programs, outcomes, and impact to assess their effectiveness and adapt strategies as needed. This can involve conducting comprehensive program evaluations, soliciting feedback from stakeholders, and being open to refining approaches based on lessons learned.
These best practices provide a general framework for land bank operations, but it’s important to note that each land bank should tailor its practices to local needs, resources, and regulatory frameworks.