On January 11, identical bills were introduced in both the New Jersey Assembly and Senate that would allow the state’s municipalities to designate certain existing entities to act as land banks to repurpose abandoned properties and reduce blight. The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network), an NLIHC state coalition partner, believes the proposed law has the potential to transform blighted neighborhoods into thriving community assets. The Network is working with advocates and legislators to secure passage of the bill.
Last winter, the Network began working with municipal leaders, nonprofit developers and other stakeholders to create strategies to address the increasing number of vacant and abandoned properties in the state. These properties have become a significant problem for some municipalities as they become places where dangerous activities are carried out or are treated as dumping sites. Municipalities often take responsibility for this land, using scarce resources on properties that likely do not generate tax revenue.
After reviewing several methods cities could use to transform their neighborhoods, advocates agreed that land banks would be an approach worth exploring. Land banks are public or community owned entities created to acquire, manage, maintain, and repurpose vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties including homes, buildings and empty lots. Advocates believe that enacting land bank legislation would give municipalities another tool, though not a mandate, to address this problem and could make existing entities already managing vacant and abandoned properties more efficient and effective. In addition, it would allow municipalities to use these properties more positively such as increasing affordable housing for low income people. Approximately 75 communities across the country now operate formal land bank programs and New York State recently passed its own land bank bill.
The Network partnered with stakeholders to create legislative language that would allow the state’s municipalities to designate entities, such as redevelopment authorities, housing authorities, or county improvement authorities, as well as certain nonprofits, to act as land banks on behalf of the municipality. Advocates also met with legislators in key districts where land banks would have the greatest influence, to gain support for the proposed legislation. This effort secured sponsorship of the Assembly bill (A1648) from Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D), and sponsorship of the Senate bill (S83) from Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D). Both sponsors represent portions of Newark, which has endorsed the bill.
The Network and its members will begin meeting with legislative leadership and the administration to gain their support for the bills. Advocates also plan to write a sample resolution in support of the legislation that they will urge municipalities and counties to adopt. In addition to Newark, Millville, Jersey City, Bridgeton, Orange, Camden, Paterson, and Irvington have all participated in discussions hosted by the Network to accomplish this goal. The Network will continue to partner with these and other urban municipalities that view land banking as an important tool to secure passage of the legislation.
“This proposal will give communities more control over underutilized areas and can be an essential tool in neighborhood revitalization efforts across the state,” said Arnold Cohen, policy coordinator for the Network.
To learn more about the benefits of developing a land bank in your area, contact the Center for Community Progress: http://www.communityprogress.net/
For more information contact Arnold Cohen, Policy Coordinator, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, at firstname.lastname@example.org