GA Advocates See Land Bank Amendment as Educational Opportunity

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With legislation on land banks, code enforcement, and other means of grappling with foreclosures and abandoned property in play in a half-dozen states, we want to make certain that the successes and challenges that advocates are finding can be shared. What follows is a highly informative piece by Jaimye Bartak, who has been working with a group of municipalities, land banks, and advocates in Georgia. Feel free to share your experience by sending your “blog” piece to us.

It’s starting to get hot down here in Georgia, and not just because summer is here. Now that Senate Bill 284 has been introduced, the hard work is really getting started for a group of Georgians representing a diverse coalition of cities and counties, community and neighborhood advocates, and non-profit developers – as diverse, in fact, as the state itself. In a state with only one large urban area, surrounded by many more rural and suburban counties and smaller cities with vastly different sets of problems and perspectives, organization will be key to passing this bill that would make our existing land bank statute more effective for communities to return problem properties to productive use. A few changes in particular, such as endowing land banks with greater options at tax sales, providing increased options for financing land bank operations, and allowing multiple counties to form a land bank are especially needed in times of widespread foreclosures and tighter local budgets. Our group is excited by what lays in store over the next year as we work together on getting the bill passed.

We’ve taken steps to be organized in our approach, but organization must be built around consistent, effective messages that can be nimbly employed in unexpected situations. Already a few small protests of SB 284 have begun to surface online, based on concerns surrounding eminent domain and private property rights. In a post-Kelo era, it is critical that this diverse group that represents many stakeholders educate Georgia citizens and elected officials to understand that land banks explicitly do not have the ability to exercise eminent domain.  Property rights concerns are justifiably strong throughout the state, so SB 284 supporters must also continually re-emphasize that land banks in fact protect the property values of responsible, tax-paying property owners that may have the misfortune of living next door to delinquent or neglected properties of absentee or institutional investors. In anticipation of any unexpected situations, the group has finalized a list of FAQs and a section-by-section explanation of SB 284 so that supporters are all speaking a common language when engaging in outreach and communication.

Though land banks have been operating in Georgia for close to twenty years, serving as a base for innovation and lessons in other states, learning about SB 284 will serve as many Georgians’ first introduction to land banking. Supporters of SB 284 are motivated by a central belief that everyone can agree on the need to stabilize neighborhoods and property values, particularly when done so by sprucing up a tool Georgia has had in its back pocket all along.

Jaimye Bartak, AICP, is Program Manager, Livable Communities Coalition