The City Council voted Tuesday night to approve the formation of a Land Bank Authority.
Director of the Economic and Community Development Department Donna Williams earlier Tuesday said the goals of the department of Chattanooga include strengthening neighborhoods and boosting economic development. She presented a plan to the council that she described as an additional tool for achieving those objectives by the creation of the land bank authority.
Land bank authorities have been used successfully by municipalities in other places, she said, as a way to add to affordable housing as well as increasing economic development. It is a way for the city to strategically acquire land through donations or purchases. If a 501c3 non-profit designation is approved by the council the authority would have the ability to receive and transfer property. It also would be allowed to apply for federal funding to make purchases which the city is not allowed to do.
This manner of obtaining property would be used for the benefit of both residential and commercial interests. The properties can be amassed and combined to create parcels that could be used to attract a large business development, or the donation of a single home could be used for affordable housing needs.
Donations of this type are often made when a bank has tried unsuccessfully to sell foreclosed property and wants to write it off, said Ms. Williams. Councilman Russell Gilbert also proposed investigating the potential of suggesting a tax break in exchange for strategic properties that the city would like to have.
Councilman Moses Freeman said the city has a great need and is behind the plan, citing property owners who hold onto undeveloped land as speculators for future use. This practice often leads to maintenance issues if the owner does not perform upkeep and it is left to the city to do things such as mowing, picking up trash and causing the city to put a lien on the property for work done. These unused properties also create problems by providing a place for drug dealing, he said.
Reception was positive for implementation of a land bank authority with the only concerns expressed being the details of establishing it. The original proposal specifies that the authority would be composed of five members, three appointed by Mayor Andy Berke, one from the Hamilton County mayor, and one from the housing authority board. The city council members proposed an amendment that would specify one representative to be from the council.That was the version that passed.
In the draft of the proposal the land bank authority would create the plan, Councilwoman Carol Berz said that the council should develop the plan for the authority to carry out. Chairman of the Council Chip Henderson mirrored the idea saying the city needs to help craft the plan. He said, “It should be our goals.”
Ms. Berz added that the city should be giving the directions because this would be an agency of the city.