July 11, 2019

Land Banking: A Sustainable Practice

The importance of sustainability has become increasingly clearer over the last few decades. Emissions from nonrenewable energy sources have been shown to harm our global environment, leading to extreme weather patterns and threats of permanent damage to our climate. Consolidated and outsourced agricultural production, which itself produces large amounts of greenhouse gases, has relied heavily on fossil fuels for transportation and non-biodegradable packaging. These unsustainable practices have left a substantive impact on our planet through unmitigated pollution. To reverse this trend, sustainable alternatives are necessary.

Sustainability is not just an environmental principle; it is an economic one. In particular, the real estate market highlights the necessity of land use sustainability. During the Great Recession in 2008, vacancy rates in the United States spiked, leading to 12 million vacant dwellings in 2010. While that number has dropped in recent years, abandoned and distressed properties are still a major problem across urban and rural regions. In Omaha, there are approximately 2,500 properties with code violations, and the majority of these are east of 42nd Street. Vacant and distressed properties are an economic problem for municipalities because they fail to bring in tax revenue, drag down proximate property values, and may require costly demolitions. These properties often fail to return to use due to chronic disinvestment and unpaid liens. Instead of activating properties in existing communities, the turn towards unsustainable housing sprawl leaves neighborhoods behind.

Where others see distress, we see opportunity!

How can the city of Omaha promote both environmental and economic sustainability? The Omaha Municipal Land Bank is one of many possible tools, catalyzing the transformation of distressed properties into community assets. By returning land to productive use, we return properties to tax-producing status, raise property values, and provide opportunities for community development where people already live. Reutilizing land sustainably through the Land Bank is a win-win for developers and residents!

However, the OMLB also offers a cheaper way for neighbors to utilize vacant land in their communities and make a positive environmental impact. Through our Adopt-a-Lot program, neighbors can pay just $25 a year to rent a property from the Land Bank and maintain it as a community garden. This is a very affordable opportunity to promote locally sustained food production, educate residents about urban farming, and bring neighbors together in a common space. Not only does this allow folks to get involved through community-oriented land use, but it promotes small-scale, local agricultural production, providing an alternative to the norm of environmentally destructive practices. The Land Bank is proud to help make these sustainable opportunities accessible to residents of Omaha through our Adopt-a-Lot program!

Omaha Permaculture, an organization dedicated to “foster[ing] community through sustainable land stewardship,” is leasing our property for their new headquarters! Photo by Omaha Permaculture.

Land banking is just one of many ways we can work towards a more sustainable world and make Omaha an even better place to live. While our work is focused on acquiring, maintaining, and disposing of properties, we are already helping our city work to increase affordable housing, unify neighborhoods, and aid urban agriculture efforts. If you want to help us sustainably transform distressed properties into community assets, contact us! Whether you’re a developer looking to affordably rehabilitate a home, or a neighbor interested in adopting a vacant lot on your block for a community garden, we’d love to see how we can work together!