Are Land Banking Strategies Different in Rural Communities? Program Officer Courtney Knox Dives in on the Topic

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Back in April, I attended the Small Town & Rural Development Conference, held in Thompsonville, Michigan.  While there, I gave a presentation on Land Banks in Small Towns and Rural Communities and, of course, invited everyone to attend the 7th Annual Land Bank Conference in Kalamazoo this fall!

Despite the very specific title of the presentation I gave, there’s really no difference at all between what a large land bank does and what a smaller, or more rural, one might do.

Land banks are most effective when connected to the tax and foreclosure process and they offer new possibilities for reclaiming and revitalizing vacant properties through carefully managed sales and rentals, side lot programs, property maintenance, gardening, demolition, environmental clean up and development. A small land bank might demolish one property instead of 1,000, or rehab two instead of 20. It might create a brownfield plan including 10 properties instead of 100. But the work, and the power it has to bring real change to a community, is the same.

I’ve seen this in places like Marquette, Michigan, where, since its creation in May 2009, the Marquette County Land Bank Authority has managed to move 39 of the 53 parcels it has acquired from tax-delinquent to tax-producing status.

Small land banks, like large ones, can play any number of roles in strengthening and redeveloping a real estate market. They can themselves be property owners and managers, but they can also be land use planners, financiers, community organizers and development partners. They can acquire a property and see it all the way through demolition, intermediate uses and redevelopment or they can play a simple transactional role, such as working with a nonprofit group to acquire a specific property for that group.

We all know by now that foreclosure and abandonment aren’t just urban issues.  The good news is that the tools we’ve used to deal with them in the urban context can work in other settings, too.

This is at the center of my thinking as my team and I work on planning this year’s Land Bank Conference. We’ve already planned for a full schedule of great discussions and workshops to be led by panels of experts we’ve selected from large cities, small towns and everywhere in between.

Hope to see you in Kalamazoo!