News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

August 1, 2014

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Community Revitalization Initiative Will Help New York Communities Restore Abandoned And Dangerous Properties

Schneiderman: We Are Empowering Local Communities To Rebuild Their Own Neighborhoods, House By House, Block By Block

SCHENECTADY – Attorney General Eric Schneiderman joined with elected officials and staff from the Capital Region Land Bank to announce a new, competitive round of funding for New York State land banks that are working to rebuild and restore neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis. The event also celebrated the long-awaited demolition of a highly distressed property at 722 Eastern Avenue in Schenectady, which the land bank recently acquired as part of its comprehensive redevelopment effort along that corridor.

The Attorney General’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative is making a new allocation of up to $20 million to eligible land banks in addition to the $13 million allocated through a competitive application process last year, bringing the total to $33 million. Funding for this new round will be drawn from the $25 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks that the Attorney General helped negotiate in 2012.

“Land banks are a critical tool for helping communities plagued by vacant and abandoned properties recover from the housing crisis,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “With this new round of funding, even more communities will reap the benefits of this powerful tool for urban revitalization. By funding and expanding land banks, we are empowering local communities to rebuild their own neighborhoods, house by house, block by block.”

During the decade of the housing boom and bust, from 2000 to 2010, the number of vacant properties in New York State increased 27%. 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 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 local economies.

However, the legislation that authorized land banks in New York did not provide funding for them. Attorney General Schneiderman launched the Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative to fill that gap and allow land banks to fulfill their purpose. He has dedicated $33 million to fund that initiative. Last month, the Attorney General’s bill to expand the number of land banks from 10 to 20 was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

The Capital Region Land Bank was newly formed at the time of the first competitive round of OAG funding. Creating the land bank was both ambitious and challenging because its geographic scope includes the Cities of Schenectady and Amsterdam, as well as the larger County of Schenectady. The OAG provided the Capital Region Land Bank with a capacity building grant of $150,000 in the last round of funding, which has enabled it to complete the planning phase of its redevelopment efforts, including hiring consultants and legal support. By all accounts, the land bank is well ahead of schedule, as evidenced by the fact that it has already acquired title to several distressed properties—including 722 Eastern Avenue—and is ready to begin demolition and redevelopment of several sites.

“Today’s announcement will help to reduce blight, develop our communities, and make Schenectady families safer. The property at 722 Eastern Avenue has been vacant for years, and I look forward to seeing it redeveloped and the immediate area revitalized with community input. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman and the Capital Region Land Bank for their tireless work to develop our communities in Schenectady and Montgomery counties — which is particularly important in the wake of the recent foreclosure crisis,” said Rep. Paul Tonko.

“Land banks are effective tools for redevelopment,” said City of Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane. “That’s why the New York Conference of Mayors has always been a big proponent of land banking and helped bring it to New York State. Today’s announcement by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demonstrates his commitment to our communities, and we’re thankful for his efforts to fund land banks across the state.”

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said, “Our land bank is already helping to improve neighborhoods throughout Schenectady, and across the State of New York, other land banks are producing similar results. I commend Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for his commitment to neighborhood revitalization and for putting the financial resources behind such an important initiative.”

“To attract new families and businesses, and keep those who have already put down roots in our region, we need to make sure our communities put their best face forward,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara (D-Rotterdam). “Identifying and demolishing vacant and abandoned properties shows that Schenectady is making a comeback. The Capital Region Land Bank, with help from the Attorney General’s Office, is turning these eyesores into something positive, benefiting our neighborhoods and the city as a whole.”

Currently, there are nine land banks in New York State that will be eligible to compete in the next round of funding, including those that received funding in the first round of applications. The nine land banks are located in:

  • Newburgh
  • Schenectady-Amsterdam
  • Albany County
  • Suffolk County
  • Buffalo-Erie County-Niagara County
  • Chautauqua County
  • Broome County
  • Syracuse-Onondaga County
  • Rochester

Abandoned and vacant properties depress property values, discourage property ownership, and attract criminal activity, but land banks provide tools to quickly turn these properties back into assets that reinvest in the community’s long-term vision for its neighborhood. Land bank programs act as an economic and community development tool to revitalize distressed neighborhoods and business districts. Land banks can benefit urban schools, improve tax revenues, expand housing opportunities, remove public nuisances, assist in crime prevention and promote economic development.

“We thank Attorney General Schneiderman for the $150,000 grant provided to the Capital Region Land Bank. This funding was instrumental in helping the land bank identify properties for demolition and renovation in critical areas that will help spark additional investment, new jobs and new opportunities in Schenectady and Amsterdam,” Steve Strichtman, Executive Director of the Capital Region Land Bank, said. “Thanks to this investment by the Attorney General, we now have work underway that will help to stabilize key areas served by the land bank. With the potential for additional funding announced today, there will be the opportunity to scale up revitalization efforts that were started by the initial grant. “

“We thank Attorney General Schneiderman for supporting our neighborhood revitalization and rehabilitation efforts,” said Anthony Jasenski, Chair of the Schenectady County Legislature.  “His support of our land bank is critical to our efforts to improve challenged neighborhoods in the city and throughout Schenectady County.”

“The Capital Region Land Bank is grateful to the Attorney General’s Office for all the support it has given to land bank efforts in New York,” said Robert W. Hoffman, Chair of the Land Reutilization Corporation of the Capital Region. “Friday’s demolition signals a great beginning to a concerted effort to fight blight in our cities and eliminate from our neighborhoods run-down and dangerous buildings. With the Attorney General’s continued generous support, we look forward to working with our local partners, Metroplex, City & County of Schenectady, City of Amsterdam and various non-profits, to improve the livability of all our neighborhoods.”

By transferring vacant and abandoned properties to responsible land owners, local governments benefit because they avoid the significant cost burden of property maintenance, such as mowing and snow removal. In addition, local governments benefit from increased revenue because the new owners pay taxes on the properties. In turn, local schools benefit because they receive more funding when there is an increase in the number of property owners in their school districts. Land bank programs can also increase the variety of mixed-income housing offered and provide more opportunities for affordable housing.

Land bank properties that become owner-occupied discourage criminal activity, benefiting public safety and decreasing the cost burden on local police and fire departments. Finally, the more residents and businesses that occupy property in a neighborhood, the more services and amenities will be needed, which boosts local economic activity.

The Attorney General’s office has partnered with Enterprise Community Partners to assist with the oversight and management of the Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative. Enterprise is a nonprofit organization with more than 30 years of experience providing technical assistance and support to affordable community revitalization efforts.