January 20, 2017

The Power of Land Banks to Create Change

Maybe the best way to show the value that we will bring to our city and our role as a catalyst of positive community change is by sharing an example.

Years ago, the Plesantview Homes area was more than just a 23-acre eyesore for North Omaha. As one of the vacant lots in Omaha, it was bringing down North Omaha property values. Eventually, the City demolished the apartments, and, in 2010, 75 North – a non-profit organization founded to create healthy, sustainable mixed-income communities in the Highlander neighborhood, purchased the site with a plan for redevelopment. Those plans are beginning to bear fruit. The Highlander 75 North development has the financial backing of Susie and Warren Buffet; the support of Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit consulting firm; and a plan to build 109 rental units in 16 buildings on the former public housing site. As reported by the Omaha World Herald, future plans include the construction of an educational enrichment complex, businesses and single-family homes.

The area of 30th Street between Parker and Patrick Streets is a success story and an example of the kind of change we at the Omaha Land Bank can bring more of to the hardest hit neighborhoods in our community. As part of the Nebraska Land Bank initiative, the Omaha Land Bank works in concert with community leaders to identify areas, including entire blocks or sectors of a community that are suffering from the detrimental effects of run down, abandoned and tax delinquent properties. Those effects include depressed property values, crime and even despair.

Land Banks: A History of Helping Communities

Land banks step into disparaging situations and work with neighborhoods to transform distressed or problem properties into areas of opportunity. We are not alone in our efforts. Across the nation, land banks are strengthening America’s neighborhoods and have been for more than 40 years.

The Center for Community Progress scanned nearly 120 land banks and specifically engaged dozens of land banks across America to examine and understand the role land banks play in building strong communities and ensuring problem properties are revitalized in ways that support the priorities and needs of local community residents. One word captures the ability of land banks to affect change: adaptability. While trends around vacant lots hold true across regions, the organization found that “the most effective approaches to combating vacancy and abandonment can vary widely.”

Collaboration with Community Partners is Key

While specific activities used to transform blighted blocks vary, characteristics of successful land banks hold true across regions and locations. Those characteristics mirror our key objectives and operating principals, which include:

  • Alignment with other local or regional tools and community programs
  • Policy-driven, transparent and publicly accountable transactions
  • Engagement with residents and other community stakeholders

When a land bank works together with other community organizations and members to revitalize distressed areas, the whole city wins. That’s our hope for Omaha; when our hardest hit neighborhoods thrive, our city truly becomes stronger.

Tell us what you think! What areas in Omaha need to be revived? What problem properties near you are good candidates for improvement?