Enhancing communities through land banks

By State Sen. Pam Jochum, Dubuque (Senate District 50)

Iowa communities may soon have a new tool to spur affordable housing, local investment and economic growth.

Bipartisan legislation (SF 2369) establishing “land banks” has passed the Senate Local Government Committee. Land banks are public-private partnerships to rehabilitate rundown, vacant and tax-delinquent properties for productive use.

This has been a priority for many in Dubuque. I appreciate the local advocacy and all who have traveled to the Statehouse to speak up for land bank legislation.

The Local Government Committee made great progress to ensure this program can improve housing in blighted areas. Members listened to the input of organizations like Habitat for Humanity, local governments, and legal and financial experts to make sure this initiative will work well for all concerned.

Vacant and abandoned properties signal a community is in decline. They can be magnets for crime, pose health and safety risks, and lower property values throughout the neighborhood.

For communities and local governments committed to redevelopment and reuse, SF 2369 addresses some of the challenges they’ve faced.

Under the legislation, local governments can create a public agency to purchase abandoned or blighted properties at a special tax sale and contract with private organizations to rehabilitate the sites. The land bank may rent or sell the renovated properties, and the money they make will go back into the pot to continue buying and fixing up additional properties.

Renovated properties may be sold as homes, rented as apartments, turned into restaurants, offices or stores—and much more. It’s great for the local economy because it takes problem properties and turns them into assets.