Land Bank Fueling Up With Foreclosure Settlement Funds
by Geoff Kelly - posted 5:45 pm, March 28, 2014
Today New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was in Buffalo to publicly announce he’s putting $2 million of gas in the tank of the joint Erie County/Buffalo land bank, to help get this crucial public policy venture moving on the road to self-sufficiency. Some of the funding has already been used to hire an executive director for the land bank, formally known as the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC). Executive Director Jocelyn Gordon, on the job about a month now, was introduced to the community today amid high praise from several of the municipal land bank board members for her background, experience, and hitting the ground running.
Gordon, who will be paid $75,000 per year (in the middle of the range BENLIC’s research found for other land bank executive directors), has a couple of decades of experience in municipal planning. As she told me in a recent interview, that gives her a familiarity with Western New York communities and municipal officials that she feels will be invaluable in a job that will require her to work closely, cooperatively, and collaboratively with many local jurisdictions. Gordon also has hands-on experience with property revitalization, having worked on projects in partnership with her architect husband, Charles Gordon.
For its first two years, while the land bank got up and running, it hasn’t ventured far. With $100,000 authorized by the Erie County Legislature years ago but never spent by then-County Executive Chris Collins, the land bank has been conducting a pilot project with several suburban properties, and working to develop the programmatic structure to be able to operate effectively in an intermunicipal environment. The goal is to eventually become self-sufficient.
Attorney General Schneiderman’s Community Revitalization Initiative created a $20 million funding pool in 2013 to assist New York land banks with startup funding. The funding, from settlements reached between the Attorney General and financial institutions involved in the 2008 mortgage crisis, was awarded last October. Five other land banks received funding, as well. Applications for an additional round of land bank funding will be taken this year.
In addition to hiring a new Executive Director to increase capacity and implement operations, the Land Bank will be using the funds to carry out several programs, including demolition of 50 properties owned by the City of Buffalo, five owned by Lackawanna, rehabilitation and sale of eight-to-ten properties around Erie County, and a sidelots program.
As of today, no list of the 50 properties to be demolished in Buffalo was available from either BENLIC or the City of Buffalo. City officials at the press conference said that the list would be submitted to the Buffalo Preservation Board in April. The pace of the demolitions was described as “fast strike,” with half to take place in the first half of the year, and the other half by the end of the year. The properties are all owned by the City of Buffalo. In the application for funding, the City of Buffalo did not identify specific properties for demolition, but rather geographic areas of the city—apparently, taken together, encompassing most of the city.
Look for an in-depth article about today’s land bank news in our next print edition. See also Artvoice’s 2012 cover story on the formation of the land bank and New York’s land bank legislation.