As evidenced in the recent census, the Syracuse, New York region is turning a corner on investment, development and growth. While these trends suggest a bright future, decades of population loss and economic turmoil have left a resurgent Syracuse area with many legacy issues to wrestle with, most notably, vacant property. Nearly 2,000 unoccupied and blighted structures in Syracuse and Onondaga County are obstacles to sustainable revitalization.
We strongly believe a regional land bank would provide a consistent solution to the issues of vacancy and tax-foreclosure. The time is ripe for action on creating an authority that would streamline the management and re-use of vacant and abandoned properties, leading to their constructive reuse.
Our local representatives at the city and county levels have united on the vacant property issue, and in their support for a land bank solution. At the city level, our mayor and Common Council have enabled the Syracuse Urban Renewal Agency to foreclose on delinquent properties in the city and hold and convey them in a manner beneficial to the community. While this is an important step in the right direction, SURA is limited to the geographical boundaries of the city.
We are working with New York state leaders from both parties on legislation that allows municipalities to create comprehensive, regional land banks. A bill introduced last year passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While also supported in the Assembly, the bill remained in the Ways and Means committee as the session came to a close. This year, the bill has been reintroduced in both houses, and we are optimistic about its chances.
A statewide land bank would allow communities to engage the private sector and our own residents in the work of repurposing vacant properties consistent with each municipality’s goals — whether that means selling an old house to a responsible occupant willing to rehab it, or demolishing a condemned structure and converting the lot into green space.
While there is no silver bullet solution, the city, county and the business community are working together to explore whether an innovative strategy that has worked elsewhere will succeed here, allowing us to recover more delinquent tax revenue, restore community control over vacant properties, and stabilize property values by curbing contagious blight.
By converting our past challenges into our future assets, land banking exemplifies the spirit that is driving our community forward.
Robert Simpson is President and CEO of the CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity, in Syracuse, New York.