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Land Banks and Community Land Trusts: Emerging Partners for a Resilient and Equitable Recovery

August 2, 2022

A blue, purple, and yellow picnic table in a row in a park.

This is an excerpt of Chapter 9 of Tackling Vacancy and Abandonment: Strategies and Impacts After the Great Recession, jointly produced by the Center for Community Progress, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. It has been lightly edited and condensed for the web. In this chapter, Kim Graziani, Senior Advisor for National Technical Assistance at Community Progress, discusses how the unique powers of land banks could be used to acquire, stabilize, and transfer problem properties to community land trusts to create long-term community benefits and more equitable recovery in neighborhoods across America. Click here to download the full chapter and read more insights on tackling vacancy and abandonment from the nation’s leading experts, and click here to download Graziani’s standalone report on Land Bank and Community Land Trust partnerships. 

Across the country, land banks and community land trusts (CLTs) have evolved over the last few decades. While each was created to address a different challenge, they are more effective in supporting community goals when they work together. While some communities have rebounded from the Great Recession, others continue to struggle with inventories of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties (problem properties), an outcome that has harmed neighbors and neighborhoods.  

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many communities are seeing an increase in higher-wage families purchasing new homes, while others facean increase in evictions and foreclosures and a growing deficit of quality affordable housing for vulnerable residents. Black communities are disproportionately affected by this crisis.  

Land banks and CLTs have different yet complementary missions and can be used to support a more resilient and equitable recovery in neighborhoods across America: a land bank can acquire, stabilize, and transfer problem properties to a CLT to create long-term community benefits.  
In this context, a partnership is defined as both entities’ governing bodies acknowledgment of the importance of working together. The partnership considers the strengths and challenges of each entity and how they can be leveraged, the goals of the partnership, and some level of support, incentive, or resource to help ensure the partnership’s success.  Since the typical land bank inventory includes problem properties located in some of the most disinvested neighborhoods, many land banks struggle to find transferees with the capacity and commitment to return properties to productive use in alignment with local community goals. CLTs generally have difficulty acquiring properties given the legal and financial barriers of problem properties in mixed housing markets and the competitive level of activity, capital, and capacity of private investors, particularly in strong housing markets.  

Although there are few examples of land banks and CLTs coordinating effectively and sustainedly, more communities are recognizing the value of a strategic partnership, and that one may be a solution to the other’s challenges. 
Here are five of the most common actions taken in communities successfully building land bank and CLT partnerships:  
1. Leading with Racial Equity 
Strong political and community leadership with a commitment to racial equity acknowledges the impact systemic racism has had and continues to have on communities suffering from disinvestment and their responsibility to address it. Multiracial leadership and white leadership that are actively engaged with, learning from, and seeking to share and turn over power to Black leadership and Black-led organizations will begin to address the needed systemic changes. 
2. Committing to Quality Affordable Housing 
Strong political and community leadership acknowledges the importance of quality affordable housing and uses its influence to direct critical resources toward producing and preserving such housing. This type of commitment helps enable the level of support and resources needed to transform distressed properties into affordable housing. 
3. Committing to Authentic Engagement and Partnerships 
Engage residents and community stakeholders in explicit discussions about the challenges facing their community and how land banks and CLTs are both tools that can be aligned within a larger network of partners and resources. These types of honest discussions build trust and manage expectations about what is needed to stabilize and revitalize communities. 
4. Leveraging Unique Powers and Strengths 
When land banks have comprehensive state and/or local land banking authority, they can leverage their unique powers to unlock a specific subset of properties that are causing the most harm and prioritize the transfer of these properties to a CLT. Likewise, one of the strengths of CLTs is the long-term stewardship of land and ensuring that the pipeline of properties acquired from a land bank continues to serve the community in perpetuity. 
5. Dedicating Flexible Funding and Capital 
When properly capitalized, land banks and CLTs can have the necessary capacity to bring their work to scale and consider additional mechanisms to acquire property before the market heats up. This type of flexible financial support can also leverage subsidy on the back end given the costs associated with transforming distressed properties into quality affordable housing for generations to come 

Key Considerations Moving Forward and a Call to Action 
It will take bold leadership and the use of every available tool and resource to achieve inclusive and equitable rebuilding and recovery. Flexible and nimble capital, partnerships, and honest discussions about the racist housing, land use, and lending policies that have helped create the ongoing crises are crucial. Land banks and CLTs must continue challenging themselves to build relationships and trust with the communities most affected by racist policies and demonstrate a deeper and authentic commitment to racial equity. 
Much about the long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 remains unknown. However, one thing is clear: Black communities continue to be disproportionately affected. Drawing from the rich history of the civil rights movement, CLTs can serve as critical partners to land banks to ensure that Black residents control the capital and capacity required to stabilize and control land in Black communities; therefore, resources need to be intentionally dedicated to these emerging land bank and CLT partnerships. Using a land bank’s special acquisition powers and a CLT’s permanent stewardship for community benefit provides a direct conduit for transferring control of land and creates a pathway for a more resilient and equitable recovery. 
With COVID-19 housing interventions like eviction and foreclosure moratoria now concluded, land banks and CLTs need to be capitalized to create a pipeline of permanent affordable housing. Dedicated funding for both operational support and subsidies to create quality affordable housing in distressed neighborhoods is more necessary than ever. Land banks and CLTs need to access capital that is flexible and nimble and allows them to compete with institutional and absentee investors, so that community benefit is realized at scale and investments prove their returns for generations to come.  

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