Identifying creative and effective ways to address the growing problem of blight and vacant and dilapidated properties continues to be a priority for legislators in both chambers, and on both sides of the aisle.
Multiple bills are making their way through the Legislature which could have an impact on city and county authority to do something about dilapidated properties. Here’s three that we’re keeping an eye on.
Giving Land Banks Right of First Refusal
Those of you who follow dilapidated property legislation closely will remember the bill that passed in 2014 (SB 579) allowing for the creation of land banks in West Virginia, modeled after the land bank in Huntington. The legislation titled them “land reuse agencies,” but, in other areas, they are often called “land banks.”
A delegation of Cabell County delegates are back this year with a proposal – HB 4390 – to expand the authority of land banks to provide them with the “right of first refusal.”
This is an idea that has been advocated for by the Huntington Urban Renewal Authority (HURA) land bank for a number of years. If passed, it would have significant benefits for HURA and would remove one of the major barriers that has prevented other communities from creating similar land banks.
Giving a land bank right of first refusal means that the land bank gets to look over properties that are up for sheriff’s tax sale before the public, and the first option to purchase any property before it goes to public sale.
Right of first refusal is used in land banks in a number of states, most notably and successfully in the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority. Properties still go through the normal tax sale process and the land bank still has to purchase the properties, but the land bank has the authority to look over the list and purchase properties first.
It will not be easy to get this bill passed. Much education and advocacy will be needed by dilapidated property advocates and stakeholders to help legislators understand the importance of creating a first right of refusal for land banks.
But the impact on dilapidated property will be well worth the work if they can make it happen. If you are passionate about dilapidated properties and want to get involved in land bank advocacy, let us know – we’ll plug you in.
Homesteading: In the pipeline for introduction this week
A bipartisan group of delegates from Fayette and Kanawha counties have come together to introduce legislation to create a homesteading pilot program for West Virginia.
(If you want some background on the concept, check out our story on the idea of homesteading in the Legislative Hubbub we ran before the session started.)
In short, it is a community development financing program that provides attractive financing options to certain purchasers for inhabiting and rehabilitating dilapidated property. Often the program is limited to a certain neighborhood or specific geographic area, and is sometimes targeted to a specific group of people (often artists).
The proposed bill would create a statewide pilot project within the Development Office. It would start by focusing on five municipalities with significant dilapidated property challenges, and would require the Development Office to support bank financing for homesteading of these properties through grants from the Development Office Promotion Fund (in addition to other grant and donation sources that are permitted to be accepted).
The coordination of this cross-county coalition points to an interest of the delegates in possibly focusing a homesteading project in the town that the two counties share, and that is under current significant distress: Montgomery.
Homesteading has been implemented with success in at least 10 other states. It would be exciting to see such an innovative program take off to support struggling West Virginia communities. We’ll keep you in the loop about the progress of this bill once it’s introduced.