Land banking

Land banks acquire, hold, manage, and develop problem properties such as vacant lots, abandoned buildings, or foreclosures and transition them to productive uses such as affordable housing developments, community-focused commercial buildings, community gardens, or green spaces. Land banks can also demolish abandoned or unsafe buildings. State and local governments can support land banks by allowing low or no cost purchases of tax foreclosures, clearing titles and/or forgiving back taxes, holding land tax free, or negotiating property transfers that address community needs. Land banks are generally governmental entities created and managed at the local or regional level (US HUD-NSP Land banking 101, CCP-Heins 2014, Negro 2012). Land banks vary in size, managing as few as 10 to over 2,000 parcels a year (CCP-Heins 2014).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced blight

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved neighborhood quality

  • Increased neighborhood socio-economic diversity

  • Increased access to affordable housing

  • Improved sense of community

  • Reduced food insecurity

  • Improved well-being

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that land banking reduces blight by demolishing deteriorated or unsafe structures, reducing property vacancies, and maintaining vacant lots (CCP-Heins 2014, NYLBA 2014, Whitaker 2014, Sadler 2017*). Land banking is also a suggested strategy to revitalize declining urban neighborhoods, improve community development (US HUD-Sage Computing 2009, CCP-Alexander 2015*), and develop economically integrated communities (Brookings-Alexander 2008, Fitzpatrick 2009). Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects and determine the characteristics, size, and scale of the most effective efforts (Negro 2012, CCP-Alexander 2015*).

Cities with many vacant lots or abandoned properties can benefit from land banks (Sadler 2017*, CCP-Alexander 2015*). In Cleveland and Detroit, demolitions to reduce blight are associated with increased home equity and property values in the surrounding neighborhood (Urban-de Leon 2017). Land banks can stabilize property values in declining areas, increase revenue (Whitaker 2014, NYLBA 2014, Keating 2013*, Dewar 2015*), and reduce maintenance costs for local governments (CCP-Alexander 2015*, NYLBA 2014). Land banks can also increase affordable housing opportunities, green space, and community gardens (CCP-Heins 2014, CCP-Alexander 2015*, Negro 2012).  

Partnering with other area programs that address blight and engaging with community members through neighborhood meetings or a formal community advisory board can increase the likelihood that land bank efforts will meet community needs (CCP-Heins 2014, NYLBA 2014, US HUD-NSP Land banking 101). Land banks can partner with local community land trusts (CLTs) to support affordable housing (Fujii 2016*). Using side lot programs to sell vacant lots to owners of adjacent properties at a reduced rate can help land banks engage local buyers and expedite the property’s return to productive use (Negro 2012); productive uses can include food production through urban agriculture and greening strategies to reduce food insecurity and food deserts, and to improve well-being of local residents (Carlet 2017*, Urban-de Leon 2017). Community-based property maintenance programs that depend on local volunteers or paid partners can support local economic development and volunteer opportunities (CCP-Heins 2014), and may have positive spillover effects for neighboring properties, including increases in local property maintenance, neighborhood pride, and youth engagement (Sadler 2017*, Urban-de Leon 2017).

Land bank acquisition can be an alternative to selling problem properties at auction; land bank acquisitions are associated with greater levels of community development (Dewar 2015*).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of May 2019, 25 states have land banks and 11 states have comprehensive legislation that support land banks: Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Delaware (CCP-Land bank map).

As of January 2018, there are approximately 170 land banking initiatives across the country (CCP-Land banking FAQ). Many initiatives are multi-faceted. For example, Michigan’s Genesee County Land Bank Authority (GCLBA), the largest operating land bank in the US, owns nearly 14,000 properties as of 2019 (GCLBA). GCLBA also runs a competitive grant process for community groups to maintain lots in exchange for a stipend through its Clean and Green Program (GCLB-Clean & green); Clean and Green’s more than 1,100 volunteers, including 700 youth volunteers, maintain 3,700 vacant lots and have planted 23 food and flower gardens in and around Flint, MI (GCLBA-2018 review). Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s land bank provides homes to immigrants, wounded war veterans, and artists, allows vacant lots to be used as community gardens, and partners with the justice system to maintain land bank-owned properties (Cuyahoga Land Bank). The Land Bank of Kansas City, MO, based on the GCLBA and Cuyahoga County models, transitions vacant, blighted, and abandoned properties into opportunities for community improvement, economic development, as well as greening and gardening initiatives (Land Bank of Kansas City).

The Detroit Land Bank Authority’s community partnerships connect with faith and community-based organizations in its efforts and in Syracuse, NY, land banks use recyclable housing material from demolitions (DLBA, Syracuse land bank).

Implementation Resources

US HUD-NSP land bank toolkit - US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD), HUD Exchange, Neighborhood Stabilization Program. NSP land banking toolkit.

CCP-Land bank headquarters - Center for Community Progress (CCP). Land bank information headquarters: Resources, publications, and toolkit.

ChangeLab-Housing toolkit - ChangeLab Solutions. Preserving, protecting, and expanding affordable housing: A policy toolkit for public health. 2015.

WRLC-Land bank - Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC). Land bank playbook: A tool to plan, establish, and operate county land banks in Ohio.

LISC-Affordable housing - Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Helping neighbors build communities: Affordable housing.

LHS - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). To enhance local affordability and foster inclusive communities. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.

Shelterforce-Land banks - Shelterforce: The voice of community development. How to fund land banks; 2018.

LHS-COVID-19 response - Local Housing Solutions (LHS), NYU Furman Center, Abt Associates. COVID-19 Housing response plans.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CCP-Heins 2014 - Heins P, Abdelazim T. Take it to the bank: How land banks are strengthening America's neighborhoods. Center for Community Progress: Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places (CCP). 2014.

NYLBA 2014 - New York Land Bank Association (NYLBA). New York State Land Banks: Combating blight and vacancy in New York Communities. 2014.

Whitaker 2014 - Whitaker S, Fitzpatrick TJ. Land bank 2.0: An empirical evaluation. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Working Paper No. 12-30r. 2014.

Sadler 2017* - Sadler RC, Pruett NK. Mitigating blight and building community pride in a legacy city: Lessons learned from a land bank’s clean and green programme. Community Development Journal. 2017;52(4):591-610.

US HUD-Sage Computing 2009 - Sage Computing, Inc. Revitalizing foreclosed properties with land banks. Washington, DC: US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD), Office of Policy Development and Research; 2009.

CCP-Alexander 2015* - Alexander FS. Land banks and land banking, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: Center for Community Progress (CCP); 2015.

Brookings-Alexander 2008 - Alexander FS. Land banking as metropolitan policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2008.

Fitzpatrick 2009 - Fitzpatrick TJ. Understanding Ohio’s land bank legislation. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Policy Discussion Papers. 2009: Policy Discussion Paper No. 25.

Negro 2012 - Negro SE. You can take it to the bank: The role of land banking in dealing with distressed properties. Zoning and Planning Law Report. 2012;35(9):1-12.

Urban-de Leon 2017 - De Leon E, Schilling J. Urban blight and public health: Addressing the impact of substandard housing, abandoned buildings, and vacant lots. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2017.

Keating 2013* - Keating WD. Urban land banks and the housing foreclosure and abandonment crisis. Saint Louis University Public Law Review; 2013.

Dewar 2015* - Dewar M. Reuse of abandoned property in Detroit and Flint: impacts of different types of sales. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 2015:1-22.

US HUD-NSP Land banking 101 - US Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD). Neighborhood Stabilization Project (NSP). Land Banking 101: What is a land bank?

Fujii 2016* - Fujii Y. Putting the pieces together: How collaboration between land banks and community land trusts can promote affordable housing in distressed neighborhoods. Cities. 2016;56:1-8.

Carlet 2017* - Carlet F, Schilling J, Heckert M. Greening US legacy cities: Urban agriculture as a strategy for reclaiming vacant land. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. 2017;41(8):887-906.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

CCP-Land bank map - Center for Community Progress (CCP). National map of land banks & land banking programs.

CCP-Land banking FAQ - Center for Community Progress (CCP). Frequently asked questions on land banking.

GCLBA - Genesee County Land Bank, Michigan. Eliminating blight, enhancing neighborhoods, strengthening communities.

GCLB-Clean & green - Genesee County Land Bank (GCLB). Clean & Green Program: maintains and beautifies vacant properties.

GCLBA-2018 review - Genesee County Land Bank, Michigan. Genesee County Land Bank 2018 annual review.

Cuyahoga Land Bank - Cuyahoga Land Bank. Returns vacant and abandoned foreclosed properties to productive use.

Land Bank of Kansas City - Land Bank of Kansas City, MO. Welcome to the land bank.

DLBA - Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA). Community partnership.

Syracuse land bank - Greater Syracuse Land Bank. The land bank returns vacant, abandoned, and underutilized properties to productive use.

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