Land bank funding to spur city demolitions

The city of Dunkirk will be among some New York state communities to benefit from more than $12.4 million in grant funding for land banks announced Tuesday by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneider-man. According to Schnei-dermann, the funding will go 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 2012’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 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.”

In 2011, the state legislature passed a law establishing land banks but did not provide funding.

Schneiderman’s Land Bank Community Revitali-zation Initiative is filling that gap. Grant awards are based on a competitive application process that will have a second round in October 2014.

According to Schneider-man’s release, Chautauqua County’s housing stock is among the oldest in the country, with much of the housing in need of rehabilitation or demolition. As of 2010, a total of 12,676 homes, or 18.9 percent, of the total housing stock in Chautauqua County was vacant.

With the funding the Chautauqua County Land-bank Corporation will be able to support full-time staff along with marketing and website development. The funding will also allow the CCLBC to acquire and demolish 40 highly-distressed and blighted properties in Jamestown, 20 distressed properties in Dunkirk, and 20 distressed properties in rural areas that are vacant and driving down the value of neighboring properties. In addition, up to 80 vacant lots will be converted into a Side Lot Program whereby the vacant lots will be transferred to neighboring homeowners who will maintain the land and get the properties back on the tax rolls.

The land bank will also be able to acquire bank-owned, foreclosed properties for the purposes of renovation and resale to new homeowners at affordable prices along with leveraging up to $2.8 million in matching funds from county and state sources.

Steve Neratko is Dun-kirk’s development director and said the city worked with the county on the grant.

“We’ve put in for some funds for demolition and side lot disposition to get those lots that are empty right now into the hands of neighboring homeowners to make their yards a little bigger, get those properties back on the tax rolls, keep them out of the tax foreclosure auction, but the big news would be the demolition projects,” he added. “We’re going to sit down with Mark Geise over the next couple weeks and talk with him about what the plan would be and formulate that plan for what homes in the city, vacant homes, would be up for demolition and other projects we can utilize the funds for.”

Mark Geise is executive director of the Chautauqua County Landbank Corpora-tion. He said there is a list of properties under consideration.

‘It’s not to say that it’s going to be that exact list,” he added. “Basically, we have a preliminary list, but nothing’s cast in stone at this point. We have two years to do it so I would see in Dunkirk’s case doing 10 in 2014 and 10 in 2015. The county will be working with city development and the building inspector. What we’ll be doing is using their CDBG money as a match, along with the county landfill credits through the shared services agreement.”

Asked about the city’s issues with HUD affecting its CDBG funding, Geise said the city could provide the matching funds through cash or some other method, but he expected it would be the CDBG funding the city uses.

“We’re just excited because this is county wide, this isn’t just about Dunkirk,” he added. “This is going to bring down 80 structures throughout the county and it’s been a real collaborative effort between the municipalities, the private sector, the county, the state. I’m just excited that it’s all come together like this. It’s going to make a fair dent, or at least a good start, in us removing that housing stock that is only bringing down our neighborhoods.”

More information about the county landbank program is available at www.planningchautauqua.com under advisory boards.

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