New book a resource for communities facing foreclosures, blight

The Center for Community Progress is pleased to release a new book, Land Banks and Land Banking, by CCP co-founder and General Counsel Frank Alexander. The new book offers public officials and community leaders a step-by-step guide for taking control of problem properties and then leveraging them to spur smart development and meet community needs.

With inventories of vacant and abandoned properties at unprecedented levels, Alexander argues that empty lots and unoccupied buildings are not nuisances, as they often seem to be, but are instead potential resources for fueling economic recovery, driving community development and strengthening real estate markets. As the author explains, land banks have emerged as a key tool for urban planners, especially in response to the mortgage crisis. Land banking gives communities control of the unused land resources within their borders and helps leaders create catalytic opportunities for new development when private sector support is absent.

Today there are 79 land banking initiatives across the country, with a number of additional land banking bills up for consideration in state legislatures. Vacant properties acquired, developed, restored and/or resold by land banking authorities have already catalyzed millions of dollars in new private investments.

Download a free copy of Land Banks and Land Banking, or get a first edition copy at the 2011 Land Bank Conference, going on this week in Detroit, MI, June 5-7, 2011. Learn more at www.communityprogress.net.

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Pending legislation in New York could help reclaim vacant properties and revitalize neighborhoods

Across the country, communities fighting to stay one step ahead of the foreclosure crisis are struggling with abandoned and vacant properties that lower surrounding property values, cut into local tax revenues, attract crime, and perpetuate a cycle of disinvestment. New York State is one of the places this battle is being waged, and Smart Growth America along with our coalition partner Empire State Future have been working to support a bill that could help.

New Yorkers! Tell the New York State Legislature to support the Land Bank Act: speak out today.

New York’s Land Bank Act (A00373, S663) would give New York jurisdictions the option to create a local entity to hold and manage problem properties and return them to productive use. In doing so the Act would bolster local economies and increase the safety, health, and vitality of struggling neighborhoods. In addition to these benefits, the bill is also revenue neutral and would achieve its aims without any added burden on New York taxpayers.

A recent op-ed in the Times Union by Empire State Future explains the benefits of creating land banks:

Land banks are able to acquire property, clear titles and dispose of land so the parcels again generate tax revenue. The best national example is the Genesee County Land Bank in Flint, Mich., a city of 102,000 people, down from 190,000 in 1960. This organization, formed in 2002, has developed innovative programs to facilitate the reuse of more than 4,000 formerly vacant and abandoned properties including side-lot transfer (more than 200 parcels), community gardens, housing rehabilitation and foreclosure avoidance (serving more than 1,300 families). Since its inception, this land bank has helped real property values in Flint to increase by more than $100 million.

The Land Bank Act could help make New York’s cities and towns more attractive for workers and businesses, and provide them with walkable communities close to shops, services and low-cost transportation choices. Land banks have been proven effective in other states and cities and have helped to revitalize many communities. New York today has towns, cities and counties that could turn their distressed spaces into valuable assets, but they need the power to do so.

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Ohio Looks to Pilot Area-Wide Brownfield Program

Last month, the State of Ohio took some important steps to support localities looking for better ways to redevelop abandoned gas stations and other contaminated land in their communities. Ohio officials met with community-based organizations from across the state to discuss starting a pilot state area-wide planning program that could kickoff as early as this summer.

Area-wide planning is a smart growth strategy that helps communities understand the combined impact of multiple brownfield sites. By looking at vacant and contaminates sites as a connected whole, rather than in isolation, communities can better plan for housing, transportation and infrastructure projects that support the entire community. An area-wide approach can help foster a new vision for communities impacted by brownfields and support the revitalization of all of the properties there. This is particularly useful for some sites, like abandoned gas stations, which may be more difficult to redevelop individually because of their smaller size.

Recognizing the benefits of this process, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program last year, which will provide the 23 communities selected for assistance with financial and technical support to implement area-wide planning strategies to revitalize the empty gas stations, closed landfills and abandoned factories inhibiting investment in their neighborhoods.

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New book from Philadelphia's City Parks Association highlights opportunities created by vacant properties

Cities and towns across the country face a number of complex problems associated with vacant and abandoned properties, including public health concerns, environmental hazards and reduced property values. Solving these problems is a formidable challenge for any city, but solutions too often lack the long-term vision and planning necessary to rejuvenate a disintegrated community.

In Philadelphia, a city with more than 40,000 vacant properties, one nonprofit organization took an innovative approach to addressing the problem. Philadelphia’s City Parks Association (CPA), a non-profit land use organization, has played a catalytic role in establishing and maintaining public parks and open space in urban areas of Philadelphia. With a mission “to stimulate visionary thinking about natural resources and open space in the urban community” and experience in city planning, CPA recognizes that Philadelphia’s ecology and community engagement are essential parts for finding solutions to the city’s vacant property issues.

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EPA Grant Helps Right-Size Saginaw, MI

This post is part of an ongoing series about organizations that have received grants from the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Did your organization receive one of these grants? Tell us about it!

Lapeer Ave in downtown Saginaw, originally uploaded by Ian Freimuth.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently selected 25 communities from across the country to receive technical assistance under its Smart Growth Implementation Assistance program – and one of them was Saginaw, Michigan. Saginaw was selected to receive assistance developing a plan to right-size its urban land area and coordinate its infrastructure investments. Both objectives are directly connected to improving sustainability and livability for the city’s residents and businesses.

Saginaw is a midsize, manufacturing-based city located in the heart of Michigan. Over the past decade, roughly 10% of its total population has moved out of the city limits. This population loss, coupled by an increase in abandoned and vacant properties, means nearly 5,500 properties in the city are currently unused and unmaintained. In total, nearly 25% of the city is physically empty or on the verge of demolition yet still requires a full range of public services, like sewer, water, roads, lighting, and police and fire protection.

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New Report Offers Lessons and Insights for Vacant Property Revitalization

Restoring Properties, Rebuilding CommunitiesIn the wake of a major housing crisis and rising foreclosure rates, American cities and towns are experiencing a glut of vacant properties. Once a sign of urban blight, empty lots and abandoned buildings now mark the landscape of neighborhoods in rural and suburban areas as well, negatively impacting housing values, tax revenues, crime rates, and more. The sheer scale of the issue has helped bring national attention to the challenges these properties present, and the need for new solutions to blight and disinvestment.

On Friday, the Center for Community Progress released Restoring Properties, Rebuilding Communities: Transforming Vacant Properties in Today’s America. The report, completed with writing and research help from Smart Growth America, offers a systemic look at the legacy of vacant properties in many of our older towns and cities, as well as new vacancy trends, and some of the innovative initiatives that have been implemented to address these trends.

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Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference Champions Economic and Environmental Revitalization

Vacant Properties Conference 2010

Investing in and reusing vacant properties can catalyze long-term, sustainable revitalization in a community. Focusing on the multiple benefits these projects bring to neighborhoods and local economies, the Center for Community Progress’ Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference kicked off this week in Cleveland, Ohio. The annual conference brings together a diversity of leaders working on community development issues to make our neighborhoods stronger and healthier.

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