In 2014, the West Virginia State Legislature passed the Land Reuse Agency Act, allowing for municipalities and counties to create land reuse agencies, or land banks.
While this bill was intended to herald the start of land bank creation in West Virginia, no new land banks have been established in the past two years. This is due in large part to a single hurdle standing in the way of successful land banking: the failure to provide land banks with first right of refusal to purchase abandoned and tax delinquent properties.
The Huntington Urban Renewal Authority (HURA) has been operating the only successful land bank in West Virginia for the past six years. They are at the forefront of advocating for the creation of first right of refusal for land banks.
Delegates from the Cabell County Area have responded to this request for help with the introduction of HB 4390. This bill would expand the authority of land banks to include first right of refusal.
The bill, like the Homesteading bill, is before the House Political Subdivisions Committee before heading on to the Government Organization Committee.
This week we reached out to Huntington Urban Renewal Authority Land Bank Administrator, Christal Perry, for her perspective on why HB 4390 would be such a game-changer for cities like Huntington…
First right of refusal would give locals power to fight blight
Sales of tax delinquent properties by the county and state has been identified as a major contributor to slum and blight. What often happens is that out-of-state investors purchase the properties associated with delinquent tax tickets for just pennies on the dollar, with no intention of inhabiting the property or bringing it into productive use.
The county tax sales have a higher rate of return than many other investments, and companies have taken full advantage of that. As it stands, anyone can purchase a delinquent tax property, if they have the cash and the owner does not redeem.
There is currently no mechanism to review these potential land owners. Do they own other properties with code violations? Are they registered with the city or state? Will they have the means to return this property if dilapidated, back into productive use?
These are all appropriate questions that should be asked in any community where blight is an issue.
Right of First Refusal legislation would allow agencies like the Huntington Land Bank to be that mechanism by giving us the chance to bring these buildings into community ownership.
Land banks would then be able to help people that are contributing to the community to purchase properties at a much lower cost, instead of trying to bid against deep-pocketed investors.
This mechanism would also work to resolve hardships.
If the Land Bank receives an occupied property, we work with the landowner. On the other hand, an out-of-state company that is not invested in the community does not do the same. To them, the occupant will either pay up, become a renter, or be thrown out.
Addressing the issue of slum and blight is an expensive task. As of now, these investors are taking profits away from Huntington.
If agencies like the Huntington Land Bank were given first right of refusal, it would create a funding stream that would allow us to function as we were created.
Land banks can reinvest that money back into the community through rehabilitation of structures, demolitions, community gardens, or any number of other creative and productive activities.
What the Huntington Land Bank has contributed to our city goes far beyond purchasing tax tickets. We are contributing to the health and wellness of our city, and First Right of Refusal legislation would enable us to do so much more.