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State of Land Banking: 2023 Survey Highlights 

December 12, 2023

A neatly mowed vacant lot with a blue sign indicating that it is owned by the Cuyahoga Land Bank.

The National Land Bank Network (NLBN) at the Center for Community Progress is a community of practice to unite and support the over 300 land banks operating throughout the country. The NLBN brings land bank leaders together to share knowledge, network, and leverage their strengths to better inform policy change and strengthen land banking as a tool.

The State of Land Banking survey, first conducted in 2021, serves as an opportunity for the land banking field to tell its story with comprehensive data. This post highlights some of the key findings and analysis from the 2023 survey.

General Overview

In the 40 years since the first generation of land bank programs began in 1971, the field of land banking grew tremendously. There are now over 300 land banks and land banking programs nationwide. The 2023 State of Land Banking survey received complete responses from approximately 30 percent of those land banks (92 completed, 20 partial).

  • 64 percent of all respondents operate at a county-level and 24 percent operate at a municipal-level.
  • When asked where most of their inventory is located, 58 percent of land banks reported inventory in urban areas and 23 percent reported inventory in rural areas.
  • 80 percent of respondents are public authorities, though land banks vary in shape and size from divisions of government to private nonprofit entities.

Top Priorities

As community needs have grown and changed, land bank goals and priorities have also shifted.

81 percent of land banks consider supporting the creation of affordable housing a top priority. 

Increasingly, land banks have been called on to respond to growing housing affordability needs. As was reported in 2021, residents and local institutions are still the most frequent recipients of land bank properties. To target housing affordability, many land banks are forming partnerships with mission-driven entities focused on quality, sustainable, and affordable housing. Currently 11 percent of respondents partner with a community land trust and 18 percent intend to form a partnership within the next three years (Figure 2). 

50 percent of land banks consider addressing more vacant lots a top priority. 

The vast majority of land bank inventory is vacant land. 86 percent of all respondent inventory are vacant lots. More and more land banks are prioritizing finding resourceful strategies to address ongoing maintenance and transfer vacant land to new and creative uses. 35 percent of respondents reported their land banks are currently engaged in vacant lot stewardship and 25 percent are planning vacant lot stewardship projects within the next three years (Figure 3).  

42 percent of land banks consider conducting more rehabs a top priority. 

Land banks are taking a more active role to fund and facilitate the rehabilitation of properties as an alternative to demolition. 43 percent of respondents reported their land banks are currently engaged in rehabilitation activities and 21 percent are planning rehabilitation projects within the next three years (Figure 3). Though demolitions remain among the top activities conducted by land banks with 54 percent currently engaged in demolition activities and 18 percent planning demolition projects within the next three years (Figure 3).

Top Challenges

65 percent of land banks consider funding to be one of the biggest threats to their land bank’s success in the next three years. 

Predictable and flexible funding remains the greatest challenge for land banks. Land bank funding mechanisms vary widely by state and local legislation. Government grants and/or appropriations, real estate revenue, and recurring local funding (tax recapture, delinquent tax, and assessment collection) are the top funding sources for respondents (Figure 5). Land banks are tasked to address the most harmful properties, with 76 percent of their inventory in hazardous or poor condition. This often requires flexible local government subsidies to support land banking activities (Figure 3), such as demolishing, repairing, and/or maintaining properties and supporting community goals. 

24 percent of land banks reported inventory to be one of the biggest threats to their success. 

Anticipated challenges with inventory include lack of available inventory, cost of inventory, and access to inventory pipelines. Currently, 66 percent of inventory comes from property tax or lien foreclosure (Figure 6). However, both appreciating housing markets and suspended foreclosures from Covid-19 have created in a decline of available properties from the tax foreclosure process, resulting in a 14 percent decrease in inventory from property tax or lien foreclosure since 2021. 

16 percent of land banks reported local-level political leadership to be one of the biggest threats to their success. 

Ongoing and anticipated challenges with local-level political leadership include political capacity, willpower, transitions, and legislation roadblocks. Though 91 percent of land banks partner with local level government departments, election cycles and local politics can challenge and disrupt the ability of land banks to tackle the scale of disinvestment in their communities (Figure 2). Continued support, education, and advocacy towards local-level political leadership is necessary for effective long-term partnerships. 

Key Takeaways

  • Affordable housing emerged as a top priority.
  • Land banks need support in continuing advocacy and education with political leaders to secure more funding support.
  • Declining inventory emerged as a top challenge, which will likely continue given hot housing markets.
  • Many more land banks are facilitating rehabilitation as one of their top activities.
  • Land bank staff and boards need to continue providing leadership opportunities to Black and Brown individuals, who often make up the majority of residents in land banks' service area.

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