The Land Bank Issue:  

“Show Us The Money! We Will Not Be Denied A Seat At This Table”

Dear Editor,

On Friday, October 14, 2016, I attended an emergency community meeting at C.R.U.C.I.A.L., located at 230 Moselle St.. The meeting was organized by Taniqua Simmons, a well-known local community activist that I have a lot of respect for.

Over 100concerned city residents attended this meeting to address the issue that our community was being sold from under us through a city land bank that had been approved by the NYS Assembly and signed into law by the Governor. Several elected officials were present: District Councilman Wingo, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Council Member Barbara Miller Williams. Most importantly Mayor Brown attended with his employee Keith Lucas, Director of Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency since 2011. Also present was John Washington, community organizer for PUSH and Indian Walton representing the Fruit Belt community which is organizing its own land bank with the help of John Washington. I reference all these individuals because they are all key players and stakeholders in the future of the inner city communities of Buffalo, but what I have to say regarding this meeting is addressed to my beloved community residents. 

I am the elected committee-person for Masten 36. In this position which I do not take lightly, I am required to provide the residents with the information and tools when possible that will allow them be productive participants in their community. So, I have researched the land bank issue and I want to share that information, because once again we are late at the table. Not because we don’t care, but because those we elect to office never clearly and completely explain issues and circumstances that may have a seriousimpacton our lives. I want to explain how we gotto a place where an information session became a beat down, disorderly, and a shameful display for residents and those elected to serve us.

WHAT IS A LAND BANK? Land Banks are not financial institutions. They are public or community owned entities created for a single purpose: to acquire, manage, maintain, and repurpose vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties. They deal with the worst abandoned houses, forgotten buildings, and empty lots.

How Did We Get to This Point? On July 9, 2011 Governor Cuomo signed Land Bank legislation. Why? So that municipalities could create Land Banks to convert vacant properties into uses that support community revitalization. Eight counties formed land banks. Our bank is called Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation. The NY Land Bank Act defines how the Land Bank should operate:

1.Obtain property at low or no cost through tax foreclosure.

2.The right of first refusal to purchase properties being sold after tax foreclosure.

3.Hold land tax free

4.Clear title and/or forgive back taxes

5.Lease properties for temporary use

6.Negotiate sales based not only on the highest bidder but on the outcome that most closely aligns with community needs. 

Note: Based on how they should operate we don’t have to push or yell we have a legal right to form a Community Advisory Council and be at the table.

What Happened in 2013? In the summer of 2013 NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative competitively made available to Land Banks 33 million dollars over two rounds. The funds were part of the first National Mortgage Settlement awarded to NYS.

In September 2013 the eight NYS Land Banks split 13 million dollars and Buffalo was one of the eight that received 1.625 million dollars. In the second round 20 million dollars was split by the original 8 and a newly formed Albany county Land Bank corporation. They each received 2.222 million Dollars. So we need to ask where is that 2.847 million dollars.

Let’s Look at Some More Recent Activity:  There was a grand announcement June 23, 2016.  in Albany, NY. The Headlines read, Governor Cuomo Signs Sweeping Legislation to Combat the Blight of Vacant Abandoned Properties. It is to your benefit to read Bill #36 dated 06/13/16 sign by the Senate and the Assembly, because the was to take effect immediately. In brief page 2 lines 3-4…there is a need to establish a program to assist homeowners…line 9-11…who may lose their homes through foreclosure, or abandoned their homes due to economic hardship and may benefit from assistance.

So now you know my beloved community and people that municipalities can create Land Banks and so can we, to convert vacant properties into uses that support community revitalization and Land Banks to identify and purchase properties from federal distressed pools. Mayor Brown spoke the truth, now we must make sure the city walks the walk. It our turn now! 

-Akua Kamau