This is the first post in Building A Future: The Potential Of Land Banks, part of 1812Blockhouse’s Challenges. Solutions. series.

By 1812Blockouse

Most of the cities along New York State’s Hudson River, north of New York City, existed for over a century before the Hedges, Larwells, Newman, and other families made their way to what is now Richland County. That said, the stories of prolonged economic decline and hoped-for revitalization in that part of the Empire State are something that 21st century Mansfielders would recognize.

Welcome to Newburgh

Some 60 miles north of New York City and 90 miles south of Albany is the city of Newburgh. Newburgh’s steeped history includes a stint as the headquarters for General George Washington’s Continental Army. The modern city is increasingly diverse, with strong Afircan-American and Latino communities.

Newburgh is slightly smaller than Mansfield with a population of 28,866. That number is somewhat misleading, however, as the city is part of a three-city metropolitan area with a population of over 650,000. The median household incomes of Mansfield and Newburgh are roughly comparable; $30,176 in the former and $37,990 in the latter.

A decade ago, civic leaders in Newburgh came together to revitalize their community. A key component of that effort was the Newburgh Community Land Bank, whose stated mission on its website is “…to improve the quality of life in Newburgh by stabilizing and revitalizing abandoned properties.”

Maximizing existing resources and building the economy

The effort was one of the first in New York State, and typifies the creative and energetic approach in other communities there such as that used by the Greater Syracuse Land Bank. In Newburgh, preservation of houses and buildings, as well as partnership with entities that utilize federal and state historic tax credits (available there as they are in Ohio) for rehabilitation and renovation, is the norm.

Consider this number — since beginning operation in 2012, the Newburgh Community Land Bank has renovated and sold 106 properties, returning each to the tax rolls instead of creating vacant lots. Of its first 82 properties, 56 were quickly repaired/renovated and privately sold, returning over $3 million in assessed value and resulting in $116,000 in new taxes — all while strengthening neighborhoods and enhancing property values throughout. None was demolished.

A similar direction is in place in Syracuse, where each building within a historic district is marketed to developers, even if initially seen as a candidate for demolition. The two land banks see their roles as stabilizing buildings, preventing deterioration, and getting projects in the hands of responsible local investors. This planning style of land banking stands in stark contrast to one which relies on the happenstance of tax foreclosures and other methods that do not result in the creation of development-attractive neighborhoods and downtowns.

Efforts in Newburgh have not only attracted attention, but heavy investment. The Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) has partnered with the Land Bank to create 45 affordable housing units in 17 properties spanning four city blocks. A Walking Tour map of impacted properties can be accessed here. At the project’s inception, RUPCO’s CEO Kevin O’Connor said, “With the help of our partners and local homeowners, together we can turn things around with housing as the keystone. Through this restoration work, we’re preserving the historic value of this neighborhood’s past and investing in this city’s future.”

In the last few years, that trend has continued. A Land Bank official recently shared, “Unlike other land banks who have relied heavily on demolition to remove blight, we see the material, cultural, and historic value of our buildings as worth preserving. In the rare cases where we are not able to save a building, we explore the option to demolish the building through a deconstruction process that creates local jobs, and salvages any reusable material from the properties.”

A list of currently available properties can be found here.

Creative community development

The Newburgh Community Land Bank is resourceful and creative. Consider the following initiatives:

Artist in Vacancy Program – Through this effort, the Newburgh Community Land Bank reimagines vacant sites as “places for community engagement, artistic production, aesthetic and cultural research, and renewed inhabitation.” One example of this initiative was profiled in this story, “Art breathes life into Newburgh’s forgotten properties.” More information on the program and sample projects can be found here.

Celebrating Building Stories — When a building is deconstructed, the Land Bank will collect historic information about the structure and share its story online in homage style.

Social Media — Speaking of online, the Land Bank is a frequent poster on social media. Its Instagram page profiles the organization’s activities and properties, including unique installations in its Artist in Vacancy program.

The Newburgh Community Land Bank website can be accessed here.

In our next installment of Building A Future Through Land Banks, we will be Buckeye State-bound.

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