Franklin County officials eye land bank to address vacant housing

MALONE — The Franklin County Economic Development Corp. and county legislators are discussing establishing a county land bank to address blighted properties and vacant houses.

Jeremy Evans, CEO of the development corporation, told legislators during their regular meeting Thursday morning that FCEDC officials and county officials have already been talking about regional land banks. Those conversations, he said, have involved FCEDC Director S. Russ Kinyon, Legislative Chair Donald Dabiew, County Manager Donna Kissane and Legislator Lindy Ellis.

According to localhousingsolutions.org, land banks are defined as public authorities or nonprofit organizations created to acquire, hold, manage and redevelop property so that it may have a productive use to meet community goals, such as increasing affordable housing or stabilizing property values.

“Specifically, it makes it easier for a county to give a property to a land bank in order to dispose of blighted properties,” Evans said. “There are certain rules land banks have that, as far as the disposition of blighted properties, the county doesn’t have. A land bank has a lot of flexibility in how to manage properties in pursuit of meeting community goals.”

According to the U.S Census Bureau, Franklin County has a vacancy rate of 25%, or 6,344 units vacant out of 25,318 total housing units.

“Land banks are one of the more effective tools in dealing with vacant housing units,” Evans said. “Considering the shortage of housing from a quality and price standpoint, I think that we should be doing everything that we can to try to get vacant units occupied.”

“This (the data from the Census Bureau) includes properties that are not fit to be occupied. We need to address those as well,” Kissane said.

The county and the FCEDC had participated in regional discussions about land banks, which were sponsored by Keeseville-based ADKAction, and have researched the best practices of more successful land banks, the development corporation has said.

It was also determined that — due to Clinton County and Essex County looking into establishing their own land banks — a regional land bank was not feasible.

“It’s not looking like regional would be an option,” Kissane said. “We reached out to another county, but I don’t think that is going to fly so it would be a county land bank. We thought that maybe we could share administration, but I am not sure that is going to work.”

If the county board decides to proceed with establishing a land bank, the FCEDC is recommending several steps. The county would first need to develop a framework for a land bank, adopt a resolution to establish the land bank, draft bylaws and consider changing a law to allow property owners to pay back taxes up to the last minute before their property forecloses.

The board discussed that the county land bank would be a separate not-for-profit corporation.

“And these land banks, what they do, is access a whole wealth of grants to put together funding in order to get properties out of a state that no one else can turn around because of costs that would occur,” Ellis said. “You then get the property and the neighborhood in a better position for people.”

“These types of discussions and questions — plus many more if you want to move ahead looking at this — opens up us all working together to start asking all those questions and coming back with options until we get a framework that seems to fit for Franklin County,” Evans said. “That framework goes into the application that has to be submitted to the state because the state has to authorize land banks.”

According to the New York State Land Bank Program, a total of 35 land banks can be active simultaneously.

The state has 26 approved land banks.

“We do have to move on this sooner than later,” Kissane said.


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