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Buffalo: A.G. announces first round of awards for $20 million program to rebuild and reinvest in communities recovering from housing crisis

by jmaloni


Tue, Oct 29th 2013 08:55 pm

Land banks to receive more than $12.4 million in A.G. grants this year; millions more to be leveraged from private sources, local governments 

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced more than $12.4 million in grant funding for land banks in Erie County/Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Chautauqua County, Newburgh and Suffolk County. The grants represent the first round of competitive funding awards under the attorney general's land bank community revitalization initiative. This two-year, $20 million program provides funds from last year's national mortgage settlement with the nation's largest banks to help communities rebuild and restore neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis. 

"In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, communities across our state have been burdened by vacant and abandoned properties that attract crime and drag down property values," Schneiderman said. "By funding land banks across New York, we are helping to empower local communities to rebuild their own neighborhoods, house by house, block by block. Returning blighted properties to responsible, productive use will revitalize entire neighborhoods and help our communities recover from the housing crisis."

Following the collapse of the housing market, the New York State Legislature passed a law in 2011 establishing land banks - nonprofit organizations that can acquire vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties and choose to rebuild, demolish or redesign them. By restoring vacant or abandoned properties, land banks lower costs for local governments, benefit public schools, reduce crime and boost the local economy. However, the legislation that authorized land banks in New York did not provide funding for them. Schneiderman's land bank community revitalization initiative is filling that gap to allow the land banks to fulfill their purpose.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, "Thanks to Attorney General Schneiderman, the Buffalo Erie Niagara land Improvement Corp. will be able strengthen its efforts in helping municipalities handle the problem of vacant and abandoned homes. These properties blight neighborhoods and negatively impact the property values of the homes around them, contributing to the erosion of communities. I thank the attorney general for recognizing the value of what our land bank is doing. His support benefits all of Erie County."

Mayor Byron Brown, noting that the city demolished 4,796 vacant buildings since 2006, said, "While the City of Buffalo is experiencing more economic development than it has seen in generations, Buffalo cannot reach its full potential until abandoned and blighted properties are removed from our neighborhoods. New York Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment of $2 million to the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corp., which includes an allocation of $1 million for demolitions in the City of Buffalo, is welcome news for those that experience the negative consequences of these properties on a daily basis, enabling us to further eliminate decades of decay to make way for even more economic development."

The following are the land banks selected for funding under the first round of the program and the amounts of their awards:

•The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Corp. was awarded $2.087 million; 

•The Rochester Land Bank Corp. was awarded $2.78 million;

•The Greater Syracuse Property Development Corp. was awarded $3 million; 

•The Chautauqua County Land Bank Corp. was awarded $1.5 million; 

•The Newburgh Community Land Bank was awarded $2.45 million; and

•The Suffolk County Land Bank Corp. was awarded $675,000. 

Schneiderman first announced in June that he would dedicate national mortgage settlement funds to support land banks. In July, he opened the first round of the competitive request for applications process. 

The projects selected for funding will carry out a range of vital community development activities, including demolition of blighted, vacant and abandoned homes; acquisition and renovation of vacant homes, including remediation of environmental hazards; resale of renovated properties as affordable housing for low-and moderate-income families; acquisition of vacant land that will be transferred to existing community residents who will maintain and repurpose the underutilized open space; and environmental pre-development studies and analysis that will eventually lead to remediation and redevelopment of brown field sites. Proceeds from the resale of renovated properties will go back to the land banks and allow them to continue their work.

Schneiderman's land bank community revitalization initiative will particularly benefit cities and counties that have struggled to maintain local services despite significant declines in tax revenue as a result of the foreclosure crisis and the subsequent epidemic of vacant and abandoned properties. The six land banks funded today have committed to return hundreds of properties to productive use and to get those lots back on the local and county tax rolls over the next 24 months.

The land banks are also using Schneiderman's funding to leverage additional resources from both private and public sources in order to expand their community revitalization efforts. A conservative estimate suggests the six land banks will be able to access a combined total of more than $21 million in other public and private funding over the next two years.

Finally, the A.G. is providing most grantees with funds to hire full-time staff, which will allow the land banks to expand operations and seek long-term sustainable sources of funding.

The A.G. has also contracted with Enterprise Community Partners, an intermediary that specializes in providing project support for community development initiatives. Enterprise will provide technical assistance and underwriting support to the land banks. It will also assist the office of the attorney general in making sure the projects remain on budget and on schedule.

Maria R. Whyte, chairwoman of the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Corp., said, "I want to thank the attorney general for making funds through his community revitalization initiative available to our local land bank. With these resources, we will be able to move the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corp. beyond its 2013 pilot project and dramatically scale up operations. Funds will be used to hire staff, demolish blighted properties, strategically acquire and rehabilitate properties, and establish a revolving fund for future land bank operations. In short, these funds will get our local land bank off the ground and help us change the landscape of many WNY neighborhoods."

Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo, said, "PUSH Buffalo applauds Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment to the land bank revitalization initiative. With these funds, the land bank is poised to stabilize neighborhoods across Erie County and empower residents to determine the future of their communities. By holding banks accountable for the losses endured by millions of New Yorkers as a result of the financial crisis, the attorney general has garnered the resources needed to address the vacancy crisis with a strategy tested in communities across the country." 

Alma Balonon-Rosen, director of relationship management-northeast, enterprise Community Partners Inc., said, "Each of the six land banks selected has put together a thoughtful, forward-thinking framework to revitalize its community and make vacant and abandoned properties productive once again. Enterprise commends Attorney General Schneiderman and his staff for creating this vital program, and we look forward to providing technical assistance to each land bank to help create communities of opportunity."

Schneiderman is also providing small grants for capacity building and staff support to assist the two land banks that applied, but were not funded for their proposals under this first round of the program. Both applicants have been encouraged to apply for funding in the second round of applications, which is expected to open in June of 2014.

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