Land bank concept gains traction at City Hall


City of Rochester officials are taking steps toward setting up a land bank, a not-for-profit entityintended to serve as a tool to address vacant properties.

Last year the state passed legislation authorizing 10 land banks across New York. Earlier this year it signed off on five, including one in Erie County. (Artvoice has an article about it here). And yesterday, state officials announced that the second round of applications is due November 30.

This time around, Rochester might be submitting an application. Staff at City Hall are developing recommendations for City Council as well as developing legislation for Council to consider. The legislation would lay out the land bank's structure; specifically, it would identify its name, provide its articles of incorporation, and create its board of directors, says Bret Garwood, the city's director of business and housing development.

City officials have yet to decide whether they'll ultimately pursue the land bank. But a working group of staff, City Council members, and representatives from Greater Rochester Housing Partnership previously recommended pursuing the idea. The land bank would supplement existing real estate, commercial development, and vacant property efforts, Garwood says. It would be another tool for the city to use, he says.

Land banks acquire tax delinquent or tax-foreclosed properties and then, ultimately, sell or transfer them to new owners. They function as an alternative to the traditional tax-foreclosure auctions and tax lien sales that governments use to try to recoup lost revenues.

Last year, I wrote about land banks and some city officials' interest in forming one (see "New York's new tool for troubled properties" in City's October 5-11, 2011 edition). Dan Kildee, president of the Center for Community Progress, succinctly summed up the advantages of land banks.

“Typically, responsibility for the worst properties in a city is somewhere on somebody’s list of things that they’re responsible for,” he said. “But it’s not anybody’s principal occupation.”