One of a city's greatest assets is its available land for
development. Unfortunately, many cities have land and properties that are vacant,
abandoned, or under-used, with few policies and regulations in place to convert
them into revenue-generating, valuable sites. This brief outlines the ten recommended
action steps that state and local governments might follow to facilitate the development
of urban land and buildings. Compiling an inventory of vacant parcels, planning
for the assembly and reuse of land, and working to eliminate the many legal and
administrative barriers to acquisition and development are just some of the actions
the authors contend should be undertaken in order to create a more transparent,
efficient, and effective system for private market land development. The brief will
discuss these and other proposed steps, and will highlight examples of successful
practices implemented in states and localities throughout the U.S.|
Milwaukee has installed a state-of-the-art website that has the entire city mapped using GIS. Users can locate any parcel, identify its use, its tax status, whether or not it is owner occupied, and other attributes relevant to its current and future use. Users can also create maps showing the location of public facilities, tax delinquent properties, zoning, development zones, voting districts, and other 'layers' of information. Maps can show the entire city, or can 'zoom in' on particular areas. The city also maintains a Master Property Record (MPROP), a computerized inventory of all properties in the city containing more than 90 elements of data describing each of the approximately 160,000 properties in the city. From the Map Milwaukee site, users can link directly to other city websites, which allows for access to additional property-related data and helps to reduce redundancy and duplication of efforts.
See the City of Milwaukee's GIS website at:
Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles (NKLA)|
Launched and maintained by the University of California at Los Angles Advanced Policy Institute, The Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles project provides free public access to web-based data on properties and neighborhoods in the city and parts of the county. Residents, activists, and government agencies can access data on code violations, tax liens, and building permits by individual property, information that can provide an early warning of decline and abandonment. Users can also map data on tax delinquencies, code complaints, and nuisance properties in order to locate where problems are concentrated. Census data, including information on ethnicity, income, and educational attainment, is also available. Currently, NKLA functions primarily as a housing information system for the City of Los Angeles. In the next few years, however, managers of the system hope to provide maps and data for the entire county and its 88 cities. They also plan to expand the range of data sets available to include other indicators of neighborhood health.
See the Neighborhood Knowledge Los Angeles website at:
Philadelphia's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative|
In 2001, the City of Philadelphia launched an innovative citywide planning approach called the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI). One of Mayor John Street's signature programs, the NTI is a five-year strategy to make the city more competitive with its suburbs by reclaiming vacant structures and land. Specific goals include:
The Mayor's initiative proposes an appropriate set of resources to each and every one of these market types. These targeted strategies aim to meet the immediate and long-term needs of the individual neighborhoods, while prioritizing actions that will stimulate investment and ultimately benefit the city at large. This goal is articulated as one of the key principals of NTI: "A long-term citywide vision must prevail and will require resources to be allocated in a manner that facilitates the market development it hopes to produce."
See the City of Philadelphia's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative website at:
Richmond's Neighborhoods in Bloom Program|
Richmond's Neighborhoods in Bloom (NIB) program is a good example of a city-adopted strategy that allows citizens to play an active role in deciding how and where community development dollars are targeted. At the direction of the City Council, the city manager's office and other city staff developed the NIB program in 1999 out of growing community concerns about high crime and vacant and blighted housing. The broad goals of the program are to 1) restore physical livability, and 2) improve neighborhood stability, both of which will ultimately improve the environment for private investment.
To reach these goals, the City decided that targeting limited resources to select areas, rather than dispersing them, would have the greatest impact. To determine the target communities, the City examined data on Richmond's 49 neighborhoods, classifying them into four broad categories based upon their concentration of abandoned buildings, crime and poverty rates, and other factors. City staff conducted numerous community meetings to solicit the input of citizens, community development corporations, neighborhood associations and other stakeholders, and ultimately the city council approved the selection of the six neighborhoods most in need. Within each target neighborhood, the City, with the assistance of neighborhood groups, identified impact areas, i.e. areas that contained groups of properties where improvements would have the greatest effect.
Richmond is using a range of local and federal tools to promote redevelopment of vacant and abandoned properties in these neighborhoods. CDBG and HOME dollars, as well as local capital improvement dollars, are being invested in NIB impact areas. At the same time, the city's code enforcement and police powers are being used to improve housing and eliminated blight. CDCs and other neighborhood groups have been integral players in the process, offering services such as down payment assistance and home repair grants and loans to residents, and rehabilitating vacant properties.
The NIB program is beginning to yield positive results. As of June 20, 2001, 810 code violations were resolved, 130 home repair loans were made, and 118 properties were rehabilitated or repaired (plus 228 in progress). In addition, property values in the six targeted areas are up and crime has dropped. Given these preliminary results, in 2001 the city council reaffirmed the NIB program for two more years and slightly expanded the scope beyond the boundaries of the original neighborhoods.
See the City of Richmond's Neighborhoods in Bloom website at:
Based on the ComStat program pioneered by New York City Police Department, Baltimore City has developed CitiStat, an extensive computerized system that is used by the Mayor and his administration to monitor week-to-week progress of city services and personnel issues. Agency and bureau heads meet with the mayor and his staff twice a month. Prior to each meeting, the agencies must submit up-to-date data - on staff overtime hours, for example, or resident complaints - to the CitiStat staff who compare it to the previous report. This helps identify progress toward goals the City has established for services ranging from public safety to sanitation. Geographic information is also plotted and displayed on detailed computer maps to further assist policy makers and managers in tracking data and formulating strategies to address problems. The city's Department of Housing and Community Development, for example, uses GIS mapping to identify housing that needs to be boarded or demolished, concentrations of blighted properties, and possibilities for redevelopment. Mayor O'Malley has committed to acquiring and dealing with 5,000 vacant lots and structures over the next two years, and Citistat will be used as the vehicle for monitoring the Department's progress toward attaining the goal.
See the City of Baltimore's Citistat website at:
San Diego's Vacant Properties Program|
The City of San Diego's Vacant Properties Program illustrates how an effective administrative strategy can work to return vacant and boarded up properties to productive use. In 1993 the City established a task force to address the growing problem of abandoned and deteriorated housing units. The task force spent a year examining the city's existing code enforcement processes, as well as those of other jurisdictions. It then held several community meetings before presenting to the City Council a set a recommendations that included both penalties and incentives to encourage private owners to rehabilitate their properties. The Council endorsed the strategy, and by 1996 passed amendments to its property abatement ordinance. The amendments created a formal procedure for notifying negligent owners that they are required to clean and secure their vacant buildings; if a property owner fails to comply, the City can board the property and charge the owner for the expense. In addition, owners of nuisance structures are now required to file a statement of intent, laying out a plan and timetable for rehabilitation. Fines can be levied on the owner if he or she either doesn't file the statement, or doesn't make progress on the work set forth in their submitted plan.
The City also hired its first vacant properties coordinator to take charge of program and administer the abatement ordinance. Working closely with the police department, the attorney's office, building inspectors, and others, the coordinator is required to: (1) maintain an inventory of all vacant properties; (2) ascertain property owners' ability and willingness to voluntarily abate public nuisances and rehabilitate their structures; and (3) if possible, work with owners to determine the most appropriate course of action. This includes helping them tap into the various resources (including both funding and technical assistance) that may be available to assist them. These resources, which come from a range of public, private, and non-profit sources, are an important component of the program, and can help mitigate the financial hardship that some owners may face.
Overall, the success of the program relies on its institutionalization within the local government structure; the designation of a skilled and dedicated coordinator; the availability of sufficient staff and resources; a close working relationship with the City Attorney's Code Enforcement Unit; the formation of key partnerships among other city agencies; and the establishment of solid relationships with citizens and other community stakeholders.
See the City of San Diego's Vacant Property Rehabilitation Program website at:
One-Stop Permitting in the Silicon Valley|
Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network is a non-profit model for regional rejuvenation. Its vision is to build a sustainable community, collaborating to compete globally. Joint Venture brings people together from business, government, education, and the community to identify and act on regional issues affecting economic vitality and quality of life.
The Smart Permit project started in 1994 as one of the first initiatives tackled by Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, working in conjunction with cities and high-tech firms in the Silicon Valley. The goal has been to use the technology of Silicon Valley to help cities and counties in the region to improve and streamline their building permit and development review processes for property owners and businesses. The eight pilot cities participating in the program - Fremont, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Carlos, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale - are following a step-by-step course of action in order to make the shift from manual permit systems to a fully integrated Internet-based process. Each of the pilot cities has taken a somewhat different approach. The City of Milpitas, for example, is in the process of implementing a new "smart" permit system in conjunction with a Geographic Information System (GIS) that will eventually serve as the foundation for the delivery of city services. The City of Mountain View has teamed with its adjoining City of Sunnyvale on several Smart Permit efforts, including the installation of the Sunnyvale Permit System (SPS),which will Internet-enable the entire permit process. The other cities are also making progress in developing systems that meet their own priorities and objectives.
See the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network website at:
Michigan's Tax Reversion Law|
Michigan recently overhauled the state's property tax foreclosure process. In 1999, county treasurers and other municipal leaders teamed up with the governor's office to rewrite the State's tax reversion laws. The new law - P.A. 123 - streamlines the former system of property acquisition though tax foreclosure, a process which previously could take as long as seven years. Under the new laws, the time needed to foreclose on a delinquent property has been reduced to two years, and as little as one year for abandoned property. When the law was passed, a county could opt to: (1) transfer property titles directly to their treasurer, or (2) pass the responsibility to the State of Michigan. The Genesee County Treasurer and the City of Flint are taking an aggressive approach to fully utilize the tools the new tax law provides. They are currently working to develop a new governmental system for administering the law, and are designing a strategic plan for acquiring and disposing of tax delinquent properties. The plan will focus on foreclosure prevention, land assembly and delivery, development of GIS capacity, and the demolition of abandoned and blighted structures . See
Genesee County's website at:
Missouri's Authorization of Eminent Domain|
Missouri has been aggressive in the use of eminent domain and the redevelopment of land acquired pursuant to a locally approved redevelopment plan. Local governments are permitted by state law to delegate the responsibility and authority to condemn property and redevelop land to private companies. This approach has been used frequently in situations where eminent domain is needed as a tool for redevelopment. Under this model, the public sector approves the plan through a public process, but a private company - non-profit or for-profit - carries out the project.
New Jersey's 'Smart' Building Codes|
New Jersey's revision of its building codes in 1998 has captured several awards and has become the model other states and jurisdictions have looked toward when revamping their own systems. The State's old codes were written to guide new construction, and were thus difficult to apply to existing buildings in a rational, cost-effective manner. Major improvement projects were encumbered by unpredictability over code requirements and project costs, and were causing developers to shy away from rehabilitation work on the state's large stock of old buildings. The Rehabilitation Code sets more flexible standards based on the nature of the work being performed, allowing developers to meet safety thresholds without forcing compliance with often-arbitrary modern requirements. The new codes have yielded significant results - from 1997 to 1999, the amount of money spent on rehab work in New Jersey's five largest cities jumped 90% and older neighborhoods are now being viewed as viable investment opportunities.
See The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs website at:
Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority|
The Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority, Inc. (LBA) is a non-profit corporation charged with putting the region's abandoned and deteriorated property back into productive use. The LBA was created in 1991 by an interlocal cooperation agreement between the County and the City and was given the power to forgive delinquent City and County property taxes. Prior to the LBA's creation, developers were reluctant to acquire tax delinquent properties, and the back taxes that came with them. These properties inevitably sank into further decline until the local government could foreclose.
With the establishment of the LBA, these sites are now much more marketable. Both non-profit and private for-profit development entities are now interested in these sites, and typically acquire property directly from the owner before working with the LBA to get the unpaid taxes extinguished. Alternatively, the LBA can acquire clear title to a property on behalf of a developer through the judicial foreclosure process. In either case, the developer must submit an application to the LBA. The board of directors then decides if the project meets certain criteria before waiving the delinquent taxes. Projects supported by the LBA include affordable single and multifamily housing units, commercial projects, and parks, gardens, and recreation centers that help revitalize neighborhoods. To date, over 900 housing units have been built on land secured with the help of the LBA, and nearly 240 more are under construction.
For more information, call the Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority at (404) 525-9336.
Chicago's Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Program|
Chicago has an aggressive TIF program, based on state legislation enacted in 1977, and expanded in 1985. Illinois now has 400 TIF districts. In Chicago, more than $2 billion in public-private investments have been made in TIF districts, which have helped to create or retain more than 28,000 permanent jobs. All told, a public investment of $272 million has generated $1.7 billion in private investment - or $6.30 for every City dollar invested. One striking example of the use of TIFs in financing the recovery of vacant land is the Central Station loop, covering a large area of abandoned rail yards just south of the Chicago Loop. The Central Station TIF took vacant, unproductive land and turned it into a thriving neighborhood of condominiums and townhouses, with the TIF funds being used for the streets, sewers, water service and other needed infrastructure.
See the City of Chicago's TIF website at:
The Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund|
In November 2000, Ohio voters approved a ballot referendum to create a $400 million bond program to fund the preservation of the state's farmland and natural areas, as well as to revitalize urban brownfields and convert them to productive use. The Clean Ohio Fund will invest up to $200 million for activities involving the evaluation, clean up and redevelopment of the state's many vacant and underutilized sites. Local governments, port authorities, and conservancy districts, as well as non-profit or for-profit groups working in cooperation with a governmental entity, can apply for the funds each year. Applicants must describe the site and proposed project, provide a detailed explanation of its economic and environment potential, and demonstrate the project's viability. Mixed-use projects receive extra consideration. The Clean Ohio Council, chaired by the director of the Ohio Department of Development, selects the strongest projects. Winning applicants can use grants and low-interest loans awarded from the Fund for environmental clean up, demolition, and upgrading or installing basic infrastructure in preparation for economic development activities.
See the Brownfields/Clean Ohio Fund website at:
Maryland Historic Tax Credit|
The Heritage Preservation Tax Credit Program, administered by the Maryland Historical Trust, provides Maryland income tax credits equal to 25 percent of the qualified capital costs expended in the rehabilitation of a "certified heritage structure." A certified heritage structure can be one that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places; designated as a historic property under local law; located in a historic district listed in the National Register or in a local historic district and certified as contributing to the district's significance; or located in a certified heritage area and certified as contributing to the area's significance.
The credit is available for owner-occupied residential property as well as income producing property. The rehabilitation expenditure in a 24-month period must exceed $5,000 for owner-occupied residential property, and the greater of the adjusted basis of the structure (generally the purchase price, minus the value of the land, minus any depreciation taken) or $5,000 for all other property. The program has been very popular with developers of historic structures - many of which were vacant before redevelopment. Approximately $52 million in credits were awarded in the first 5 years of the program's operation, with the number of applications increasing annually. The program was recently amended and now limits the tax credit on a particular building to $3 million.
See the Maryland Historical Trust website at:
Providence's River Relocation Project|
Providence's restoration of its long neglected waterfront exemplifies how a natural asset can catalyze an urban renaissance. Twenty years ago, downtown Providence was plagued by disinvestment and decline. Rail tracks and parking lots divided up the city, the road pattern was congested and dangerous for pedestrians, and the river was largely paved over, resulting in a blighted, uninviting landscape. In the mid-1980s, the city, with high profile leadership from a local architect with a grand vision, embarked on an ambitious urban infrastructure project. Over the course of ten years, the city's three rivers were reconfigured, creating a landscaped river corridor in the city's center which connected existing parks, opened the waterway to boat traffic, and created a pathway system for pedestrians and bikes. The city removed railroad tracks, roadways and access ramps that had obscured the river and built a dozen new bridges, improving traffic patterns and pedestrian access. The two new public parks created along the water's edge contain an amphitheater, fountain, and several small plazas, and have become a favored venue for entertainment and events. Today, the river and its surrounding area is a beautiful amenity that has helped inject new life into the city.
Portland's Affordable Housing Strategy|
Portland, Oregon has shifted its neighborhood redevelopment strategy from a focus on revitalization to one that provides help in make housing affordable in its many 'hot' market communities. Portland is demonstrating approaches that use public funds and vacant land to counter market trends that are so strong that they risk the displacement of current residents. Launched in 2001, the Pilot Project specifically targets neighborhoods located in a new urban renewal area where a new light-rail line is under construction. The City is providing homebuyer financial assistance both through a community land trust approach, and a second mortgage program, targeting long-term renters.
As part of this project, renter households are offered homebuyer education classes, down payment assistance, and second mortgages to assist in them in moving to homeownership, with the public funds filling the affordable housing gap. This approach is combined with a community land trust in which a homeowner takes title to the house, while a non-profit organization owns the land. A lease agreement between the non-profit and homeowner defines a resale formula that seeks a balance between appreciation for the homeowner and keeping the home affordable for future homebuyers. The City has allocated $1.5 million to the pilot effort, a combination of CDBG and General Fund appropriations.
See the City of Portland's Bureau of Housing and Community Development website at: http://www.ci.portland.or.us/bhcd/what/housing.html