Developing Local Leaders to Restore Vitality to America’s Neighborhoods Impacted by Crisis

From COVID-19 to the lingering effects of the Great Recession, communities are facing the snowballing challenges of addressing and preventing widespread systemic vacancy. In response, Community Progress and the National League of Cities have the Vacant Property Leadership Institute (Leadership Institute).

The 2021-2022 Leadership Institute combines four-days of intense training, up to 100-hours of technical assistance, and access to a network of experts and practitioners to help local leaders come together to tackle today’s challenges with vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties in their communities.

The application period is now closed.
The Vacant Property Leadership Institute will take place in February 2022.
2021 – 2022 Program Participants

College Park
South Fulton




Program Overview

The Leadership Institute, which builds on the past success of the Community Progress Leadership Institute, engages participants from up to 3 cities across 3 states in training, technical assistance, and networking opportunities to help them as they work to transform VAD properties in their communities.

Through the Leadership Institute, participating leaders will:

  • Gain a better understanding of the interconnected causes of problem properties,
  • Unlock new strategies to equitably stabilize and restore communities,
  • Gain access to the latest tools for assessing and reforming systems that contribute to vacancy at the state and local levels,
  • Develop customized strategies for driving meaningful change and responses to VAD property issues, and
  • Build the relationships necessary for pursuing a systems-based approach with other leaders both within and across cities, towns, and villages.

Each Leadership Institute cohort is, by design, limited in size, making for a low participant-to-faculty ratio, and creating opportunity for individual attention tailored to a participating city’s needs. The limit in size also makes for a highly competitive application process.

Leadership Institute Curriculum

Through classroom sessions and small group activities, our faculty of top national experts and local practitioners will guide participants through sessions on these and other topics:

  • Data and neighborhood markets: Using data to understand the conditions that shape revitalization opportunities, constraints, and how to plan accordingly;
  • Strategic housing and building code enforcement: Developing vacancy prevention programs that respond to the varying needs and priorities of different neighborhoods;
  • Delinquent property tax systems: Reforming tax policies so that they contribute to neighborhood stabilization;
  • Land banking: Examining how to use this tool to eliminate properties’ liabilities so they can return to productive use;
  • Vacant land reuse: Demonstrating how to identify, fund, and implement realistic alternatives;
  • Public health: Exploring the role of public health as a related condition to housing insecurity and neighborhood revitalization; and
  • Disaster resiliency: Confronting the reality of forced displacement and the permanent loss of generational wealth and land for residents of vulnerable communities in the wake of catastrophic natural disasters.

Program Benefits

Building productive relationships

The Leadership Institute brings together people who are working on common issues in common places but may not have worked together before. Forging these relationships can spark transformative ideas almost immediately. A leader of a community-based organization in Jackson, Mississippi, met a Mississippi state official as part of the Leadership Institute delegation. Together, they swiftly forged a new partnership that enables the community-based organization to acquire state-owned vacant properties for a resident-owned and resident-controlled community land trust. Now, once-neglected properties are moving into local hands, where they will be stewarded for the community’s benefit.

Moving forward together

In a challenging political and legal environment, it can be all but impossible for even the most well-intentioned local leader to see a way forward. Through the Leadership Institute, participants from Oklahoma City realized they weren’t alone – and this newfound strength in numbers could make all the difference. Forming a coalition of local stakeholders to tackle abandoned buildings emerged as one of the most productive, viable ways of navigating political and legal complexities. The coalition is an exciting mix of stakeholders from public agencies, public interest groups, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and citizen groups. It focuses on understanding vacant, abandoned, and problem properties in Oklahoma City and recommends practical approaches to City, County, and State authorities to begin slowing the problem while preserving and revitalizing neighborhoods.

Creating a coalition for change

Delegations often say that they wish everyone from their hometowns – or even home states – could share in the Leadership Institute experience. Participants from West Virginia set out determined to turn that wish into reality and activate a state coalition of partners committed to positive change. In the months immediately following their Leadership Institute, team members convened the first-ever statewide summit on vacancy and abandonment, bringing home the lessons learned at the Leadership Institute to multiple other cities in the state. This multi-day event fostered statewide knowledge-sharing of best practices, generated a new state legislative reform agenda, and cultivated stronger relationships among practitioners throughout the state.

Shaping legislation and statewide outcomes

Leadership Institute team members almost invariably realize they have a lot in common with the other teams from their state. That natural synergy can give rise to collaborative efforts to knock down common barriers to progress. Many past Leadership Institute participants have successfully championed new state laws to let cities create effective community revitalization tools.

Technical Assistance and Continuing Support

Transformational change takes time, and we view participation in the Leadership Institute as the beginning of a long-term relationship. Following completion of the Leadership Institute Training, Center for Community Progress and the National League of Cities will competitively select three communities to each receive up to 100 hours of technical assistance, building off the knowledge provided by the Leadership Institute.

Award of technical assistance hours will be based on a thorough review of applications and observation during the Leadership Institute. All other communities participating in the Leadership Institute will become members of a Leadership Institute Virtual Learning Network which will continue to build momentum and position their communities for future technical assistance opportunities.


If you have additional questions about the 2021-2022 Vacant Property Leadership Institute, please contact:
Justin Godard
Program Officer, National Leadership and Education
Center for Community Progress

For questions about the online application process, please contact:
Lauren Lowery
Program Director, Housing and Community Development
National League of Cities