American Jobs Act would revitalize vacant properties with Project Rebuild

ForeclosureSmart Growth America supports President Obama’s call for federal investments that will create jobs, modernize America’s transportation infrastructure and support the country’s economy as part of the American Jobs Act. In particular, Smart Growth America supports Project Rebuild: Putting People Back to Work Rehabilitating Homes, Businesses and Communities, which has been allocated $15 billion under the proposed bill. From the White House’s description of the program:

The bursting of the housing bubble and the Great Recession that followed has left communities across the country with large numbers of foreclosed homes and businesses, which is weighing down property values, increasing blight and crime, and standing in the way of economic recovery. In these same communities there are also large numbers of people looking for work, especially in the construction industry, where more than 1.9 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The President is proposing Project Rebuild to help address both of these problems by connecting Americans looking for work in distressed communities with the work needed to repair and repurpose residential and commercial properties. Building on successful models piloted through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), Project Rebuild will invest $15 billion in proven strategies that leverage private capital and expertise to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of properties in communities across the country. Key components include:

Focus on Distressed Commercial Properties and Redevelopment to Stabilize Communities
Many regions with concentrated home foreclosures also haveconcentrations of vacant commercial structures that weigh on property values and make it less likely that new businesses will come into the community and invest new capital. Project Rebuild will tackle this problem directly by allowing grantees to rebuild and repurpose distressed commercial real estate.

Include For-Profit Entities to Gain Expertise, Leverage Federal Dollars and Speed Program Implementation
Many successful redevelopment strategies involve unique collaborations between local governments, non-profit organizations and developers and other private actors. Project Rebuild will seek to empower and expand these types of collaborations by allowing federal funding to support for-profit development when consistent with project aims and subject to strict oversight requirements to ensure that the funds are being used as intended.

Increase Support for “Land Banking”
Land banks work with communities to buy, hold and redevelop distressed properties as part of a long-term redevelopment strategy and have shown impressive results in stemming property price declines and stabilizing communities across the country. Project Rebuild will seek to scale successful land bank models, providing much needed infusions of capital that they can leverage to raise private sector investment. This will increase the breadth and depth of their reach in helping communities better handle their distressed properties.

Create Jobs Maintaining Properties and Avoiding Community Blight
Project Rebuild will enable grantees to use funds to establish property maintenance programs to create jobs and mitigate “visible scars” left by vacant/abandoned properties.

Lank banking has been used by several communities around the country, including recently in Cuyahoga County, Ohio and in statewide legislation in New York. It’s difficult for a city to recover when, on top of unemployment, homes are boarded up or downtown is empty. This is exactly what smart growth helps communities overcome, and it’s great to see some of these strategies included in the American Jobs Act.

Photo by Flickr user respres.