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 level1, 2, 3. Land banks vary in size, managing as few as 10 to over 2,000 parcels a year2.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
Improved neighborhood quality
Increased neighborhood socio-economic diversity
Increased access to affordable housing
Improved sense of community
Reduced food insecurity
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is some evidence that land banking reduces blight by demolishing deteriorated or unsafe structures, reducing property vacancies, and maintaining vacant lots2, 4, 5, 6. Land banking is also a suggested strategy to revitalize declining urban neighborhoods, improve community development7, 8, and develop economically integrated communities9, 10. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects and determine the characteristics, size, and scale of the most effective efforts3, 8.
Cities with many vacant lots or abandoned properties can benefit from land banks6, 8. In Cleveland and Detroit, demolitions to reduce blight are associated with increased home equity and property values in the surrounding neighborhood11. Land banks can stabilize property values in declining areas, increase revenue4, 5, 12, 13, and reduce maintenance costs for local governments4, 8. Land banks can also increase affordable housing opportunities, green space, and community gardens2, 3, 8.
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 needs1, 2, 4. Land banks can partner with local community land trusts (CLTs) to support affordable housing14. Using side lot programs to sell vacant lots to the owners of adjacent properties at a reduced rate can help land banks engage local buyers and expedite the property’s return to productive use3. Productive uses can include growing food through urban agriculture and greening strategies that reduce food insecurity and food deserts, and improve the well-being of local residents11, 15. Community-based property maintenance programs that depend on local volunteers or paid partners can support local economic development and volunteer opportunities2, and may have positive spillover effects for neighboring properties, including increases in local property maintenance, neighborhood pride, and youth engagement6, 11.
Land bank acquisition can be an alternative to selling problem properties at auction; land bank acquisitions are associated with greater levels of community development13.
Potential to decrease disparities: Suggested by expert opinion
Experts suggest land banking has the potential to decrease disparities in neighborhood quality between areas with low incomes and those with higher incomes by revitalizing declining urban neighborhoods, supporting community development goals7, 8, and developing economically integrated communities9, 10. Land banks can collaborate with other local organizations committed to expanding affordable housing options as a way to promote equitable community control of available land24, 25. Through these partnerships, foreclosed homes, land, and distressed properties may be transformed into affordable housing for families with low incomes, rather than being sold to the highest bidder and “flipped” for quick profit, which can contribute to displacement and neighborhood gentrification24, 25. Land banks may also place conditions on who can purchase properties, prioritizing sales to non-profits and developers committed to expanding affordable housing and meeting community goals25. Land banks have the potential to decrease blight in both rural and urban neighborhoods. Land banks are more common in urban areas but may also draw new investments and revitalization efforts to rural communities26.
Land banking efforts that stabilize or increase property values, reduce blight, and increase community wealth and resources may help reduce the racial wealth divide. A significant part of the racial wealth divide at all income levels relates to lower homeownership rates and lower home values for people of color27, 28, 29. Residential segregation increases racial disparities in housing stability, homeownership, and property values27. Structural racism in the housing market has created undervalued, marginalized neighborhoods with deficient housing and severe blight, including vacant lots and abandoned properties, along with under-resourced, lower-quality schools, fewer job opportunities, limited services, inadequate food supplies, and neglected public infrastructure27. Land banks, especially when part of multi-component initiatives, can support investment and development in marginalized neighborhoods and promote equitable growth30.
Discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies in the era of Jim Crow and government-sanctioned segregation led to the redlining practices of the Federal Housing Administration that entrenched residential segregation29. By the 1960s, disinvestment in both urban neighborhoods and rural areas had left them suffering from concentrated poverty and dealing with high levels of racial residential segregation31. At this point, land banking emerged as an urban planning tool to counteract urban disinvestment by allowing government agencies to purchase vacant, blighted properties and return them to productive use through redevelopment efforts32, 33. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed to reduce housing discrimination, but it has not stopped housing discrimination against people of color or helped rebuild the marginalized neighborhoods created by residential segregation34, 35.
The first land bank, the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority, was created in 1971 to revitalize urban properties, though it was not intended to counteract residential segregation32. Ohio passed legislation in the 1970s, allowing counties, townships, and municipalities to establish land banks, acquire foreclosed properties, and hold them as real estate tax exempt properties until they could be transformed for productive use36. The largest land bank in the US, the Genesee County Land Bank (GCLB) in Flint, Michigan was established in 2002. The GCLB benefited from similar legislation when Michigan streamlined the process of acquiring tax delinquent properties in 1999. The GCLB receives delinquent tax revenue from the properties, which is used to address blight, improve foreclosed properties, and keep the land bank sustainable17, 37.
Following the 2008 financial crisis and the sudden increase in blighted, vacant, and foreclosed properties, numerous communities turned to land banks as a strategy to aid struggling neighborhoods37. Many communities changed the legal structure and some of the rules for land banks to make it easier for land banks to address the needs and goals of local communities33. In the present day, formerly redlined neighborhoods remain more likely to include older homes in poorer condition, meaning homes that have energy inefficient systems; lead paint, soil, or pipes; mold and other allergens; repair needs; challenges with heating and cooling; and more38. Modern land banks may address these health hazards, transforming derelict and vacant housing into safe, affordable homes in thriving neighborhoods39.
- Has your local land bank connected with community stakeholders and partners, perhaps through community meetings, to determine what your community’s goals are and how the land bank may support them (e.g., transitioning blighted or vacant properties into new affordable housing or green spaces in support of neighborhood revitalization efforts)?
- Has your local land bank established a resident advisory council as a way of learning more about the community’s goals? Does the land bank’s staff reflect the diversity of the community it serves?
- Does your local land bank have active partnerships with local government agencies? Are there additional government agencies or community organizations that your local land bank would benefit from working with? Does your local land bank have access to a vacant property inventory? How is that inventory updated?
- Can local land banks partner with community land trusts (CLTs) to increase the likelihood that foreclosed homes, land, and distressed properties are purchased by CLTs and turned into affordable housing for families with low incomes, rather than purchased by the highest bidder to be "flipped"?
- Has your local land bank exercised discretion in determining what types of businesses can purchase housing, land, and other properties from them? Are there conditions set on how the land can be developed in support of the community’s goals? Can the land bank partner with programs supporting first-time homebuyers with lower incomes?
As of March 2022, 25 states have land banks and 17 states have comprehensive legislation that support land banks: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia16. There are over 250 land banking initiatives across the country16. Many initiatives are multi-faceted. For example, Michigan’s Genesee County Land Bank Authority (GCLBA), the largest operating land bank in the US, owns more than 15,000 properties as of 202117. GCLBA also runs a competitive grant process for community groups to maintain lots in exchange for a stipend through its Clean and Green Program18; Clean and Green’s more than 1,100 volunteers, including 700 youth volunteers, care for more than 3,660 properties every three weeks and have planted 23 food and flower gardens in and around Flint, MI19. 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 properties20. The Land Bank of Kansas City, Missouri, 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 initiatives21.
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 demolitions22, 23.
LHS-Land banks - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). Land banks. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.
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-Resource center - Center for Community Progress (CCP). Resource center.
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.
Shelterforce-Land banks - Shelterforce: The voice of community development. How to fund land banks; 2018.
LHS-COVID-19 response - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). Housing issues: COVID-19. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.
* Journal subscription may be required for access.
1 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?
2 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.
3 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.
4 NYLBA 2014 - New York Land Bank Association (NYLBA). New York State Land Banks: Combating blight and vacancy in New York communities. 2014.
5 FRB-Whitaker 2014 - Whitaker S, Fitzpatrick TJ. Land bank 2.0: An empirical evaluation. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. 2014: Working Paper No. 12-30r.
6 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.
7 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.
8 CCP-Alexander 2015* - Alexander FS. Land banks and land banking, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: Center for Community Progress (CCP); 2015.
9 Brookings-Alexander 2008 - Alexander FS. Land banking as metropolitan policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution; 2008.
10 FRB-Fitzpatrick 2009 - Fitzpatrick TJ. Understanding Ohio’s land bank legislation. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Policy Discussion Papers. 2009: Policy Discussion Paper No. 25.
11 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.
12 Keating 2013* - Keating WD. Urban land banks and the housing foreclosure and abandonment crisis. Saint Louis University Public Law Review; 2013.
13 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.
14 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.
15 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.
16 CCP-Land bank map - Center for Community Progress (CCP). National land bank map.
17 GCLBA - Genesee County Land Bank (GCLBA), Michigan. Eliminating blight, enhancing neighborhoods, strengthening communities.
18 GCLB-Clean & green - Genesee County Land Bank (GCLBA), Michigan. Clean & Green Program: Maintains and beautifies vacant properties.
19 GCLBA-2021 review - Genesee County Land Bank (GCLBA), Michigan. GCLBA 2021 annual review.
20 Cuyahoga Land Bank - Cuyahoga Land Bank. Returns vacant and abandoned foreclosed properties to productive use.
21 Land Bank of Kansas City - Land Bank of Kansas City, MO. Rebuilding vibrant communities, one property at a time.
22 DLBA - Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA). Community partnership.
23 Syracuse Land Bank - Greater Syracuse Land Bank. The land bank returns vacant, abandoned, and underutilized properties to productive use.
24 Lowe 2022* - Lowe JS, Prochaska N, Keating WD. Bringing permanent affordable housing and community control to scale: The potential of community land trust and land bank collaboration. Cities. 2022;126:103718.
25 LHS-Land banks - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). Land banks. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.
26 Johnson 2017* - Johnson R. Putting the heart back in the heartland: Regional land bank initiatives for sustainable rural economies. Arkansas Law Review. 2017;69(4):1055-1100.
27 PRRAC-Haberle 2021 - Haberle M, House S, eds. Racial justice in housing finance: A series on new directions. Washington, DC: Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC); 2021.
28 Urban-McCargo 2020 - McCargo A, Choi JH. Closing the gaps: Building black wealth through homeownership. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2020.
29 Kaplan 2007* - Kaplan J, Valls A. Housing discrimination as a basis for Black reparations. Public Affairs Quarterly. 2007;21(3):255-273.
30 CLiME-Nelson 2020 - Nelson K, Troutt D. Land banks as instruments of equitable growth: CLiME’s recommendations to the City of Newark. Rutgers Law School, Center on Law, Inequality, and Metropolitan Equity (CLiME). 2020.
31 Zdenek 2017 - Zdenek RO, Walsh D. Navigating community development: Harnessing comparative advantages to create strategic partnerships. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2017.
32 FRB-Haralson 2005 - Haralson LE. Land banks restore neighborhoods...building by building, lot by lot. St. Louis: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; 2005.
33 WRLC - Western Reserve Land Conservancy (WRLC). History of land banks. Moreland Hills, Ohio.
34 Urban-Reynolds 2021 - Reynolds K, Lo L, Boshart A, Galvez MM. Federal reforms to strengthen housing stability, affordability, and choice. Washington, DC: Urban Institute; 2021.
35 AIC-HTF - All-In Cities, an Initiative of PolicyLink. Housing trust funds (HTF).
36 CCP-Frangos 2022 - Frangos G. A history of Ohio land banking 2009–2021: From legislation to operation. Center for Community Progress, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland; 2022.
37 FRB-Grover 2009 - Grover M. Land banks as a neighborhood recovery strategy: A conversation with Dan Kildee of Michigan's Genesee County Land Bank. Minneapolis, MN: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; 2009.
38 Braveman 2022 - Braveman PA, Arkin E, Proctor D, Kauh T, Holm N. Systemic and structural racism: Definitions, examples, health damages, and approaches to dismantling. Health Affairs. 2022;41(2):171-178.
39 San Antonio-Land bank - City of San Antonio, Texas. Neighborhood & Housing Services Department (NHSD): Our SA land bank activities.
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