Land Bank Self-sufficiency is a mirage in the desert | News, Sports, Jobs
Ten years ago, supporting the Chautauqua County Land Bank was easy.
What’s not to like about a program that allowed a county in the midst of a housing crisis to access state money to tear down vacant, dilapidated homes? Even better, once the county received seed capital from the state, the Chautauqua County Land Bank would be able to reinvest that seed capital into the program, allowing the program to become self-sustaining.
“The OAG funding enables the Land Bank to leverage up to $2.8 in matching funds from county and state sources. Additionally, CCLBC is confident that with the dedicated staff funded through this program, they will be able to generate an additional $2 million in private funding to support this and future projects and become self-sufficient.
Ah yes, the promise of a stand-alone government program. Autonomous programs are the government’s version of a mirage in the hottest of deserts. They look great then, but they end up leaving you dry. As we now know in hindsight, the land bank did not in fact become self-sustaining despite receiving $6.4 million from the state from 2013 to 2018. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped things by postponing the tax auction and cutting the land bank revenue stream, but let’s face it – if the organization was self-sustaining, it wouldn’t be pushing so hard to get $1 million from the American Rescue Plan stipend. Act of the City of Jamestown to do more than just demolitions. Don’t forget that the proposal before the council also includes a home ownership program for those buying a land bank or section 19a property, a mentoring program for first time buyers and the purchase an information management platform to work with a city program. It doesn’t look like durability. Rather, it feels like an organization seeking to find new paths to relevance.
Don’t let that mean the land bank hasn’t done a good job over the past 10 years. It certainly is. The land bank brought investment to desperately needed neighborhoods in Jamestown and Dunkirk. Neighborhoods have been improved through the efforts of the land bank.
But the land bank’s sustainability issue is a cautionary tale for Jamestown City Council members as they discuss a 19-year homeownership program that is also to be funded with $750,000 dollars. ARPA. And the program in front of the board has the same siren song “self-sufficiency” in the memorandum of staff supporting the program – “Finally, with a solid initial investment, this program can eventually become self-sustaining, ensuring it continues indefinitely.”
Unlike the land reserve, which exists outside of the county government, the 19A program would be a city-supported program. If the revenue isn’t as high as expected, the program ends or its backers will find themselves before the city council with their hands outstretched demanding more money. And the last thing the city should do with ARPA funding is create a program that could actually become a drain on city finances if the siren song of self-sufficiency ends up being a mirage at middle of the Sahara desert.