The FDIC won’t be involved in the failure of one Washtenaw County bank. This bank didn’t deal in cash — it dealt in acres. In July of 2009, facing a wave of foreclosures that started in 2007, the Washtenaw County commissioners created the Washtenaw County Land Bank. The county-run land bank could have helped to eliminate urban blight and put vacant property to good use for the community. Unfortunately, Washtenaw County abandoned this promising program before its benefits could be realized, citing insufficient funding and differences between officials in charge. But county officials shouldn’t have given up so easily — they should renew their efforts to find funding for the land bank and restart this valuable project.
The recently-dissolved Washtenaw County Land Bank authority was modeled after the nationally-lauded land bank in Genesee County. The Wastenaw County Land Bank was intended to acquire properties, determine the best use of each property and then sell the property to a private owner. The establishment of the bank occurred just in time to qualify it for $300,000 in federal stimulus funds, which were meant to serve as start-up capital for the project. The land bank was intended to become self-sustaining. On Mar. 17, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted to dissolve the land bank. According to a Mar. 18 AnnArbor.com report, commissioners said that the authority’s failure to present a clear strategy, as well as a lack of funding, led to their decision.
It’s unfortunate that the land bank was dissolved before it could make any real progress. The land bank could have given Washtenaw County the face-lift it needs to restart the floundering real estate market here and to increase the prosperity of the county. Rundown homes decrease the value of surrounding properties. Sprucing up deteriorating properties would have helped increase community property values.
And the foreclosed land available to the land bank could have been used for a number of important projects. The properties would have been sold specifically to benefit the community as a whole, like low-income housing, environmentally-friendly offices and other beneficial projects. Without the land bank, there is no way to ensure that developments will benefit the city as a whole — if they happen at all.
Admittedly, the authority didn’t receive a $5 million Neighborhood Stabilization grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — that’s a legitimate stumbling block. But it’s upsetting that county officials simply gave up after encountering this obstacle. They should have redoubled their efforts to find alternative funding for the project.
And it’s even more upsetting that county officials couldn’t work together to create a solid plan for the bank. With an effective example like the Genesee County Land Bank to follow, it’s unacceptable that Washtenaw County officials are unable to come to an agreement about the details of the bank. They dropped the ball. And now Washtenaw County residents will pay the price.
The land bank could have been a valuable resource for the county, and it shouldn’t have been abandoned so quickly. County officials should work together to find a middle ground and the funding needed to resurrect the land bank.