A.G. Schneiderman Announces First Round Of Awards For $20 Million Program To Rebuild And Reinvest In Communities Recovering From The Housing Crisis

Land Banks To Receive More Than $12.4 Million In A.G. Grants This Year; Millions More To Be Leveraged From Private Sources, Local Governments

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

BUFFALO – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced more than $12.4 million in grant funding for land banks in Erie County/Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Chautauqua County, Newburgh, and Suffolk County. The grants represent the first round of competitive funding awards under the Attorney General’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative. This two-year, $20 million program provides funds from last year’s National Mortgage Settlement with the nation’s largest banks to help communities rebuild and restore neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis. 

“In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, communities across our state have been burdened by vacant and abandoned properties that attract crime and drag down property values,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “By funding land banks across New York, we are helping to empower local communities to rebuild their own neighborhoods, house by house, block by block. Returning blighted properties to responsible, productive use will revitalize entire neighborhoods and help our communities recover from the housing crisis.”

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 choose to 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 the local economy. However, the legislation that authorized land banks in New York did not provide funding for them. Attorney General Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative is filling that gap to allow the land banks to fulfill their purpose.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, “Thanks to Attorney General Schneiderman, the Buffalo Erie Niagara land Improvement Corporation will be able strengthen its efforts in helping municipalities handle the problem of vacant and abandoned homes. These properties blight neighborhoods and negatively impact the property values of the homes around them, contributing to the erosion of communities. I thank the Attorney General for recognizing the value of what our land bank is doing. His support benefits all of Erie County.”

Mayor Byron Brown, noting that the city demolished 4,796 vacant buildings since 2006, said, “While the City of Buffalo is experiencing more economic development than it has seen in generations, Buffalo cannot reach its full potential until abandoned and blighted properties are removed from our neighborhoods. New York Attorney General Schneiderman’s commitment of $2 million to the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC), which includes an allocation of $1 million for demolitions in the City of Buffalo, is welcome news for those that experience the negative consequences of these properties on a daily basis, enabling us to further eliminate decades of decay to make way for even more economic development.”

Rochester Mayor Thomas S. Richards said, “We must continue investing in our neighborhoods despite our challenging fiscal environment. The Rochester Land Bank Corporation and the funding provided to it by Attorney General Schneiderman will help make our neighborhood revitalization efforts better, faster and more efficient.”

Rochester City Council President Lovely Warren said, “I commend the Attorney General for making this significant investment in our land bank. Neighborhood revitalization and preservation must remain top priorities. This funding will provide valuable assistance, and it is very positive news for the people of Rochester.”

New York State Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle said, "The housing and financial crisis put enormous strain on local governments, especially cities like Rochester which were already struggling with blighted neighborhoods and a declining tax base. Thanks to the Attorney General's leadership, the institutions at the heart of the crisis will now help fund the recovery through the land bank initiative. I am grateful for the support the Rochester land bank will receive, and to Attorney General Schneiderman for his commitment and vision in making this program a reality." 

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney said, "Attorney General Schneiderman's action today is a tremendous boost for our County. Neighborhoods which have suffered will now benefit from this significant grant to our land bank. The land bank is up and running and this influx of support will help us address abandoned properties to keep the county moving forward. Thank you Attorney General Schneiderman for your help."

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said, “Syracuse and Onondaga County collaborated to launch one of the first land banks in the state, and this significant grant is great news. The funding comes as our land bank—the Greater Syracuse Property Development Corporation—has begun seizing tax-delinquent properties for redevelopment or demolition. On behalf of everyone involved in the Greater Syracuse Property Development Corporation, I want to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for securing these funds and putting them back to such a productive purpose here in Syracuse.”

New York State Senator David Valesky said, “The Greater Syracuse Property Development Corporation has been a pioneering influence across the state for other land banks. This recognition is well-deserved, and the funding will provide significant assistance. I am grateful to the Attorney General for his support of land banks in general, and ours in particular, and look forward to seeing the beneficial effects of this award in our neighborhoods.”

Chautauqua County Executive Greg Edwards said, “I certainly recognized the value of the land bank to the county when we founded it and funded it with startup capital. However, the Attorney General’s commitment with this significant grant he has awarded our land bank will be important for the future of Chautauqua County. I thank the Attorney General for his investment to improve the housing for everyone in Chautauqua County.”

Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy said, "First, I want to thank the Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, for fighting for the money to return to the state of New York. I know that this grant will be a great boon to all the land banks across the state of New York and especially for the Newburgh Community Land Bank. This grant will really 'jump start' the process of revitalizing our neighborhoods by improving properties and attracting new property owners thereby increasing our tax base. On behalf of the City of Newburgh, the Newburgh Community Land Bank and the tax-paying citizens, I am especially grateful and appreciative."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, “Thanks to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the provision of these new funds will represent another next important step in the Suffolk County Land Bank’s continued efforts to remediate environmental damages in our communities, restore vacant properties, and rebuild our economic tax base. We are confident that the Land Bank will serve as a smart tool to help redevelop Suffolk County and to help build even stronger local neighborhoods.”

Suffolk Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory, whose legislation initiated the creation of the county’s land bank, said, “Two years ago, when I saw these abandoned and polluted properties littering the County I knew that we had to do something. This grant will finally allow us to start reclaiming the worst of these blighted parcels, and in the process, also revitalize neighborhoods around them.”

The following are the land banks selected for funding under the first round of the program and the amounts of their awards. Click the links for additional information about each land bank award: 

Attorney General Schneiderman first announced in June that he would dedicate National Mortgage Settlement funds to support land banks. In July, he opened the first round of the competitive Request for Applications (RFA) process. 

The projects selected for funding will carry out a range of vital community development activities including demolition of blighted, vacant, and abandoned homes; acquisition and renovation of vacant homes, including remediation of environmental hazards; resale of renovated properties as affordable housing for low-and moderate-income families; acquisition of vacant land that will be transferred to existing community residents who will maintain and repurpose the underutilized open space; and environmental pre-development studies and analysis that will eventually lead to remediation and redevelopment of brown field sites. Proceeds from the resale of renovated properties will go back to the land banks and allow them to continue their work.

Attorney General Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative will particularly benefit cities and counties that have struggled to maintain local services despite significant declines in tax revenue as a result of the foreclosure crisis and the subsequent epidemic of vacant and abandoned properties. The six land banks funded today have committed to return hundreds of properties to productive use and to get those lots back on the local and county tax rolls over the next 24 months.

The land banks are also using Attorney General Schneiderman’s funding to leverage additional resources from both private and public sources in order to expand their community revitalization efforts. A conservative estimate suggests that the six land banks will be able to access a combined total of more than $21 million in other public and private funding over the next two years.

Finally, the Attorney General is providing most grantees with funds to hire full-time staff, which will allow the land banks to expand operations and seek long-term sustainable sources of funding.

The Attorney General has also contracted with Enterprise Community Partners, an intermediary that specializes in providing project support for community development initiatives. Enterprise will provide technical assistance and underwriting support to the land banks. It will also assist the Office of the Attorney General in making sure the projects remain on budget and on schedule.

Maria R. Whyte, Chairwoman of the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Corporation, said, “I want to thank the Attorney General for making funds through his Community Revitalization Initiative available to our local land bank. With these resources, we will be able to move the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC) beyond its 2013 pilot project and dramatically scale up operations. Funds will be used to hire staff, demolish blighted properties, strategically acquire and rehabilitate properties, and establish a revolving fund for future land bank operations. In short, these funds will get our local land bank off the ground and help us change the landscape of many WNY neighborhoods.”

Katherine W. Sheets, Executive Director of the Rochester Land Bank Corporation, said, “Vacant housing is a primary focus for the Land Bank. This funding will help us to meet the challenge of property abandonment head-on. Rehabilitation of vacant houses not only creates affordable housing, it also stabilizes home values and can restore confidence in neighborhoods. The Rochester Land Bank is extremely pleased that their application has been approved by the NYS Office of the Attorney General.” 

Katelyn Wright, Executive Director of the Greater Syracuse Property Development Corporation, said, "These grant funds from the Attorney General give us the opportunity to address both the immediate physical and financial impacts of the mortgage foreclosure crisis by eliminating blighted properties. By addressing 70 vacant houses we’ll and combat the negative impacts abandoned properties have on quality of life in our neighborhoods, but also stabilize the values of surrounding properties and create opportunities for fifty low-to-moderate-income households to invest in home-ownership." 

Mark Geise, Executive Director of the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation, said, “The funding that the New York State Office of the Attorney General has bestowed upon the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation is critical to our mission of rehabilitating and removing dilapidated properties, improving neighborhoods, building capacity to expand our services and ultimately reversing the negative decline Chautauqua County’s housing sector has experienced for many years.” 

Madeline Fletcher, Consulting Director of the Newburgh Community Land Bank, said, “The opportunity that the Attorney General’s funding provides to the City of Newburgh is immeasurable. Not only will the grant allow the Land Bank to function at a higher level and to effect meaningful changes in a short time, it will also lay the groundwork for new private and public investment in this beautiful, historic community.” 

Aaron Bartley, Executive Director of PUSH Buffalo, said, "PUSH Buffalo applauds Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment to the Land Bank Revitalization Initiative. With these funds, the land bank is poised to stabilize neighborhoods across Erie County and empower residents to determine the future of their communities. By holding banks accountable for the losses endured by millions of New Yorkers as a result of the financial crisis, the Attorney General has garnered the resources needed to address the vacancy crisis with a strategy tested in communities across the country.” 

Alma Balonon-Rosen, Director of Relationship Management-Northeast, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc., said, “Each of the six land banks selected has put together a thoughtful, forward-thinking framework to revitalize its community and make vacant and abandoned properties productive once again. Enterprise commends Attorney General Schneiderman and his staff for creating this vital program, and we look forward to providing technical assistance to each land bank to help create communities of opportunity.”

Attorney General Schneiderman is also providing small grants for capacity building and staff support to assist the two land banks that applied but were not funded for their proposals under this first round of the program. Both applicants are being encouraged to apply for funding in the second round of applications, which is expected to open in June of 2014.

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