A.G. Schneiderman Awards $2.5M To Buffalo Land Bank, Total Of $20M To Land Banks Across New York State

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

Schneiderman: We Are Doubling Our Commitment To Buffalo’s Revitalization, Including The Ongoing Redevelopment Of The East Side

BUFFALO – Joined by elected officials and staff from the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has awarded $20 million to New York State land banks that are working to rebuild and restore neighborhoods hit hard by the housing crisis, including more than $2.5 million to the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Investment Corporation (BENLIC). The Attorney General’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative is making a new allocation of nearly $20 million to eligible land banks, in addition to the $13 million allocated through a competitive application process last year, bringing the total commitment to $33 million. Today’s announcement was made on Northland Avenue on Buffalo's East Side, the heart of the community that BENLIC hopes to redevelop with funds provided by the Attorney General’s Office, in partnership with the City of Buffalo.

“Land banks are a powerful tool to help communities statewide rid their streets of vacant properties that attract crime and drag down property values,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “With this new round of funding, we are doubling our commitment to Buffalo’s revitalization, including the ongoing redevelopment of the East Side. By expanding land banks, we can continue to empower more communities to rebuild their own neighborhoods, house by house, block by block.”

This year’s award of $2.5 million to BENLIC will bring the total investment in Buffalo to just over $4.5 million over three years. Those funds will enable BENLIC to expand their rehabilitation program to target the Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor, a priority area for redevelopment on the East side of Buffalo. BENLIC expects to complete 12-16 rehabilitations of distressed homes, and 50-75 demolitions over the next two years throughout the region.

Funding for this new round will be drawn from the $25 billion settlement with the nation’s largest banks that Attorney General Schneiderman helped negotiate in 2012. The following ten land banks in the State will receive funding: Greater Syracuse Land Bank; the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Investment Corporation; the Rochester Land Bank; Newburgh Community Land Bank; Suffolk County Land Bank; Chautauqua County Land Bank; Capital Region Land Bank; Albany County Bank; Troy Community Land Bank, and the Broome County Land Bank.

“Vacant and abandoned property casts a shadow over neighborhoods across the City of Buffalo and Western New York,” said Congressman Brian Higgins.  “Attorney General Schneiderman’s successful fight to secure a federal settlement is providing needed resources to help local communities fight the blight and take back our communities.”

“The land bank has been a critical instrument in the fight against the dilapidated, abandoned houses that dot our communities and lower our property values," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "Since its inception in 2012, the land bank has been a positive factor for change across our region, helping to restore housing to the tax rolls and mend the fabric of neighborhoods, I would like to thank my partner in government, Attorney General Schneiderman, for his focus on this issue and his commitment to addressing vacant properties.”

“I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his continued focus on revitalizing neighborhood’s in Buffalo through the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, giving our city the tools and resources needed to help us reach our full potential,” said City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.  “Our Land Bank is an important tool for the revitalization of neighborhoods in Buffalo, creating jobs and opportunities for small businesses.”

“Western New Yorkers take pride in their homes and neighborhoods, however, we still have vacant and blighted properties tarnishing our community and bringing down home values,” said Senator Kennedy (D-Buffalo). “Land banks are a powerful resource for municipalities like Buffalo, Cheektowaga and Lackawanna, who can use this funding to bring distressed properties up to code and back on the tax rolls. A $20 million state investment in land banks will reverse the negative cycle of blight and decline that has hit Buffalo hard, and convert it into a positive cycle of neighborhood improvement and development.  I’d like to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for recognizing the importance of this funding to continue our efforts to improve Western New York's neighborhoods."

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “Buffalo is growing at a rate that has not been seen in generations, community redevelopment has to match that rate said. Abandoned and vacant properties have an effect on property values, more importantly the surrounding communities. The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Investment Corporation (BENLIC) focuses on this very issue; community redevelopment through returning delinquent properties to productive use. I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for the $2.5 million in funding to BENLIC and his continued efforts impacting the Queen City.”

Assemblyman Michael Kearns said, “Saving our  neighborhoods is essential to our community  and  $2.5 million is a great start to help address vacant and abandon properties.”

Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, “I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for working diligently to utilize settlement funding to invest in Land Banks all across our state. Here in Western New York, our Land Bank is working to combat the vacant housing crisis, and this funding will be a huge boost to our efforts. The Land Bank law was a game-changer that allowed Erie County, the City of Buffalo, and municipalities across New York create land banks that can significantly reduce the number of vacant properties that negatively impact our communities. This new funding will help to local governments save money, combat blight, and improve neighborhoods throughout Western New York."

Jocelyn Gordon, Executive Director of the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, said, "Western New York is reinventing itself before our very eyes.  For those of us with a long history in this region, we are witnessing progress which we likely never imagined could occur in our lifetime.   Many thanks to the Office of the Attorney General for their continued confidence in BENLIC, and for providing this tremendous catalyst to spur continued development in Buffalo and beyond. "

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 amounts awarded are as follows: the Rochester Land Bank (over $1.8 million); Greater Syracuse Land Bank (over $1.9 million); the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank Investment Corporation ($2.5 million); Newburgh Community Land Bank (1.9 million); Suffolk County Land Bank ($1.9 million); Chautauqua County Land Bank ($1.3 million); Capital Region Land Bank ($3 million); Albany County Bank ($2.8 million); Troy Community Land Bank ($1.25 million), and the Broome County Land Bank ($800,000).

In the first round of funding provided by the OAG, six land banks received grants and to date they have each made tremendous progress. The Attorney General’s funds are assisting land banks in building their capacity so they are able to take on these types of community redevelopment initiatives, as well as enabling the land banks to begin implementing their local community development plans.

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.

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.