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How land banking is helping the foreclosure crisis

Housing Authority:Emory’s Frank Alexander is a national expert on land banking, a practice that is now helping to turn vacant properties around.

In 2005, two years before America’s housing bubble burst, Frank Alexander, Sam Nunn Professor of Law and director of the Project on Affordable Housing and Community Development at Emory’s School of Law, was finishing up a book he’d begun at the urging of colleagues.

To the average reader, "Land Bank Authorities: A Guide for the Creation and Operation of Local Land Banks" would surely appear arcane. The seminal text on a little-known practice, it was designed to assist public officials in America’s older industrial cities in addressing the legal barriers—property-tax delinquencies, fractured titles to land, substandard housing, and building code violations—that had long prevented them from putting abandoned parcels into productive use.

Land banks, Alexander argued, offered these struggling cities a powerful tool for going forward—a program through which municipal authorities can acquire, hold, develop, and ultimately resell blighted buildings and dilapidated homes. The book, he believed, could serve as a road map for city leaders looking to rediscover the value of that urban land.

Yet no one, not even Alexander, could have predicted just how important that tool would be in years to come. In 2005, there were just a handful of successful land banks—all of them concentrated in the declining inner cities of the Rust Belt. Today, mainly in response to the devastating effects of the economic and housing crises, there are more than eighty nationwide, with more and more states considering comprehensive land bank legislation every month.

And suddenly Alexander finds himself at the center of a national conversation that is anything but arcane.

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