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The Sun column: State land bank funds could be a real game changer

HAMBURG — Guest column submitted by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

The blight caused by vacant, abandoned and dilapidated properties reduces our quality of life, makes neighborhoods more dangerous and robs Erie County of tens of millions of dollars in valuable tax revenues. In total, the more than 73,000 delinquent tax liens represent more than $53 million in taxes owed to Erie County.

While the city of Buffalo is often the focal point of the issue of abandoned properties, it is not the only community in the county that is suffering from the blight and disinvestment in real property.

For instance, although the city is the location of approximately 64 percent of the tax delinquent properties (46,883 out of 73,360), the city has only 11 percent of the assessed value of all liens (approximately $6 million). The remaining $47 million is located in our other cities, towns and villages.

These properties, in addition to having a negative impact on county and municipal finances, if not dealt with, lead to negative economic and physical impacts on adjacent properties and neighborhoods.

A countywide problem called for a true countywide solution. And, that solution was the creation of one of New York state’s first land banks last year. The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, while still in its formative stage, is creating a coordinated, countywide structure to efficiently and effectively deal with these properties and put them back to productive use, based on each municipality’s individual needs.

Essentially, the land bank will have the authority to purchase vacant, abandoned or dilapidated properties and, depending upon individual situations, will renovate and either sell to an individual or use for affordable housing, or demolish the property and sell the land.

Presently, we are working with local officials to identify valuable properties and transfer them to the land bank at our next foreclosure sale. Earlier this summer, Attorney General Eric Schniederman announced that – thanks to a recent $25 billion settlement related to the foreclosure crisis – up to $20 million will be made available to fund these land banks, through a competitive application process over the next two years.

If Erie County is successful in winning funding, it could be a real “game changer.”

To put this into perspective, in the 2013 Erie County budget, I allocated $100,000 in start-up funds to the land bank. This funding would allow the land bank’s pilot program to purchase approximately five to seven properties. Across New York state a total of 10 land banks have been authorized.

So, even if the state awards funding evenly, Erie County could receive as much as $2 million – 20 times the pilot program funding. Instead of dealing with five to seven properties, we could deal with 100 – 140 properties.

During the coming weeks, Erie County, along with its partners will put together the most competitive grant application possible in order to secure a piece of the funding provided by the Attorney General.

Together, we will finally address the vacant property problem that has plagued our community for decades.
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