Land Banks Can Empower Neighborhood Development

One of my campaign principles is Responsibility. A responsible government is humble and leaves more power to the people than it takes for itself.

This principle leads to two policy priorities: Neighborhoods should drive development; and, community organizations that help the city work better should be encouraged and rewarded.

These aren’t just wishes. I have been part of trying to make this happen along Central Avenue. My neighborhood (Audubon Park) realized that if we keep looking at developers as enemies, nothing will improve. So we held a couple of Developer Roundtables—open discussions where we asked developers about the problems they face and how a neighborhood group might help them build something awesome.

We learned that one of the first hurdles a new development must overcome is site assembly. A recent US Supreme Court decision has resulted in legal changes that limit Eminent Domain (the ability of government to force property owners to sell). I think that’s good. Humble government doesn’t make you sell your building to someobody else. But that was the tool that developers frequently used to gather small parcels for a larger project. The better law made it harder to assemble a site for redevelopment.

There is another way. That is to have non-profits buy and hold land as parcels become available. It’s called land banking. In Northeast, it might mean the Northeast Community Development Corporation (NE/CDC) or the City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT)—I’ve worked with both—buy and hold properties for future development. Any eventual development would have to fit the goals and desires of the community, or the community-based land banks wouldn’t sell. This transfers power from City Hall to our neighborhoods.

The StarTribune published a story on a metro-wide land bank:

The Twin Cities Community Land Bank hopes to work with communities to turn thousands of vacant and abandoned properties in the seven-county metro area into good, tax-generating homes fast enough to halt neighborhood deterioration.

The organization would raise money, make loans and work with local governments and developers to acquire and maintain blighted properties with the goal of getting them back on the tax rolls when economic conditions improve. It expects to take on 2,000 properties within the next 18 months.

"Government alone is not going to be able to address the serious scale that the foreclosure crisis presents in many communities," said Tom Streitz, Minneapolis housing director.

Redevelopment includes more than just large-scale project on transport corridors. Land banks can also hold single-family lots for eventual new single-family or small multi-unit homes. Imagine there's a developer who wants to build green and sustainable single-family houses. If several of those could be built simultaneously on scattered sites throughout a neighborhood, the cost would go down (which means the houses are more affordable). A community-based land bank could make this happen.

Other candidates talk about the importance of development. But they aren’t looking at ways to make development less dependent on government. Nor are they so keenly focused on putting power in the hands of neighbors and neighborhoods. We have the same goals, but I know how to achieve them without taxing out the folks we’re all trying to help.


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