The Cook County Board voted unanimously on January 16 to establish a land bank. The decision was announced on it’s website:
The Land Bank Authority is being created as an agency of the County so it can help return vacant and abandoned properties to productive use. It will promote the re-use and redevelopment of vacant, foreclosed and tax delinquent parcels in Cook County and work collaboratively with targeted municipalities to decide which properties to acquire and how they should be restored.
As I’ve noted before, this technique has been used since 2002 in my hometown, Flint, Michigan, in Genesee County, thanks largely to efforts by now-U.S. Representative Dan Kildee and my former professor at Emory Law, Frank Alexander. Now, according to the Cook County website, over “80 local governments in 23 states have created land banks to turn vacant land from a liability into an asset.” Smartly, the land bank has a 13-person oversight board “comprised of individuals from a variety of fields, including banking, real estate and development.” Although the Genesee County Land Bank is viewed by some Flint residents as storing up properties without really maintaining them, it is largely viewed as a success, even winning a prestigious award from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government for innovation in affordable housing.
So, overall, I think that it’s a great idea for Cook County to try, and note only that, like most local government initiatives, true success will demand hard work on the ground level to identify promising properties and find investors to renovate and reuse them.