In Detroit, Continuing the Legacy of Land Banks

While the Detroit Land Bank has had its ups and downs, it has made significant progress in a city with no shortage of vacant and delinquent properties.
September 30, 2018, 7am PDT | Camille Fink
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John Gallagher takes a closer look at the Detroit Land Bank Authority, both its accomplishments and difficulties in recent years. The Land Bank was established in 2008, but it was not until 2014 that it gained traction and acquired the city’s 50,000 vacant parcels, says Gallagher:

Since then, property tax foreclosure and other trends have boosted the Detroit Land Bank's inventory to about 95,000 parcels today — more than one-fourth of all the individual parcels in the city. It is the largest such inventory of publicly held land of any city in the nation.

The Land Bank makes vacant lots, houses, and other buildings available through sales, auctions, and a buyback program for homes facing property tax foreclosure. “Beginning in 2014, when Detroit Land Bank organized on its current model, it has auctioned 1,866 houses, sold 1,906 properties through the Own It Now program and closed on about 500 BuyBack sales, in addition to then 10,000 side-lot sales,” reports Gallagher.

The Land Bank, however, has been criticized for not selling properties fast enough. The organization had also grappled with leadership turnover in its first years, until its current executive director took the helm a year ago. In addition, the demolition program to remove blighted structures, affiliated with the Land Bank, is facing allegations of corruption, says Gallagher.

Still, Gallagher believes the Land Bank has achieved a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. “In the broadest sense, the Land Bank’s achievements give hope that urban problems really can be solved. If a challenge as intractable as Detroit’s vacant and abandoned land can yield to innovation and commitment, perhaps all the city’s ills will so yield,” he says.

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Published on Sunday, September 23, 2018 in Detroit Free Press
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