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Land Banks, Land Trusts and Affordable Housing

by Nena Perry-Brown

The conversation about DC’s affordable housing crunch has come to the forefront as the city’s primary elections draw near. The sheer amount of development that has sprung up citywide over the past decade offers hope that the supply will at least not lag too far behind the anticipated demand, but the city still has a long way to go.

Because land is a finite resource, the question will eventually become, is the city using all of its available land as efficiently as possible in creating and maintaining housing?

According to the DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs 2015 tallies, there are 134 blighted and 1,143 vacant buildings across the District.

While the city-administered request for proposals (RFP) process has gained momentum in the past few years in dispensing land and spurring development, the city is far from exhausting all options to maximize its housing stock.

One tool that DC has not employed, but that is used nationwide to create and preserve affordable housing, is the land bank. According to the Center for Community Progress, there are approximately 120 public land banks in the United States. Land banks are used to acquire and broker the development of privately-owned vacant and blighted properties that have been abandoned or foreclosed.

Land banks would also be able to administer the sale of tax liens, which the previous mayoral administration pumped the brakes on after it was revealed that this program preyed on the financially vulnerable through lax regulation and negligence.

In 2009, the DC Council passed a bill which requires developers to break ground on projects within two years of being awarded development rights to city-owned parcels. Prior to this, the city had been holding agreements with developers that afforded those private entities the right to develop, while not placing any requirements or penalties on their leaving the land unimproved for indefinite lengths of time — even decades, in some instances.

Overall, while the city has come a long way toward incentivizing and encouraging the development of fallow land across the city, a land bank would consolidate and harness the public sector’s powers and vision toward creating a variety of housing options for residents of all income levels.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/land_banks_trusts_housing/11322

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