Spokane’s new real estate bank wants to acquire land so nonprofits can build homes for low-income individuals | Local News | Spoken | The Pacific Northwest Inlander

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“What it’s really doing is removing barriers to building low-income housing,” says Ben Stuckart, pictured here at a potential Peaceful Valley lot.

WWhile many non-profit organizations want to build low-income housing, Sometimes it can be difficult to get things rolling.

For example, when a nonprofit is applying for state or federal housing grants, authorities often want to see that an organization already has the land to build on, says Ben Stuckart, executive director of the Low Income Housing Consortium.

But for nonprofits, it’s a big risk to buy a piece of land before they know they’ll get development funding, he says.

A new land bank that Stuckart and others just started in Spokane could help solve this problem by sourcing land and abandoned lots and then working with nonprofits so they can buy those lots over time.

“What it’s really doing is removing barriers to building low-income housing,” says Stuckart. “The land bank is a neutral agency. I don’t build low-income housing, I represent all low-income developers in the city.”

In partnership with STCU, the Low Income Housing Consortium worked to obtain seed capital for the Spokane Regional Low Income Housing Land Bank from the GoWest Foundation, which works with credit unions and community organizations in six western states to help communities with projects such as affordable housing, financial education and more.

With $45,000 from GoWest, the new land bank is now operational and Stuckart looks forward to beginning fundraising so the bank can begin raising land. It is the first bank of its kind in Washington State.

“My goal is for the land bank to raise $1 million over the next year. That can come from asking the city, county, state, and FBI to do it, and it can come from talking to companies about what a great idea,” says Stuckart. “But way around To go where I buy land I either have to start with a gift of land or I need some money.”

He is already in talks with several property owners who may be interested in selling their land to the land bank at a discount, knowing it will be used for low-income housing. Other proposed changes to state law could help the land bank even more in the future.

NEW RULES AND POSSIBILITIES

In 2018, Washington’s legislature changed state laws so state agencies with surplus land can gift that land to organizations that use it for the greater good by providing affordable housing.

It used to be illegal for agencies to give away public property at little or no cost, but with a housing crisis affecting every part of the state, facilitating affordable housing projects appealed to lawmakers. That means Spokane’s land bank could start approaching agencies for land right away.

However, further changes to state and local regulations may be needed to address another potential source of affordable housing: zombie homes.

When homes have been vacated or abandoned and become disruptive properties that cities legally acquire, they are usually put on the market to go to the highest bidder. When Stuckart was Spokane City Council President, he often questioned why nonprofit organizations couldn’t get the first crack at these properties.

There were occasions, he says, when the city would offer an organization a specific home, but if they didn’t plan to build in that neighborhood within a few years, the property was sold on the market instead.

“More than 250 land banks have been set up nationwide in the last ten years.”

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But if the land bank is in place, the bank could own those homes and keep them until a nonprofit or developer is willing and ready to build a low-income residence there, Stuckart says.

Also, if state and local laws are changed to allow these transfers outside of the typical auction process, these properties could be more easily pledged for affordable housing.

More than 250 land banks have been created across the country over the past decade, primarily in response to the Great Recession real estate crash, according to an August 2021 report on land banks commissioned by Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP) and Invest Health Spokane became. The Center for Community Progress report details how several states have changed their laws to specifically allow cities and regions to create land banks to put vacant lots to good use.

“Most land banks focus on a subset of [vacant, abandoned and deteriorated] Properties that cause the greatest harm to a community by creating public health and safety threats, driving down property values ​​and sapping local taxpayers’ dollars through repeated deployments of police, fire, housing and building code enforcement resources,” the report said “Land bankers’ targeted holdings are typically those properties that the private market has rejected due to various legal and financial impediments, such as tax or other public liens against the property that exceed the value of the property.”

Some states have allowed land banks to purchase these properties for less than the value of the remaining tax burden on that property.

Deals with Spokane’s Land Bank could also allow nonprofits to pay off a property over 20 or 30 years (instead of buying an entire property upfront), depending on the type of loan or grant they receive for their project, Stuckart says.

“It’s a lot cheaper and a lot less risk for the nonprofit organization,” says Stuckart. “Rather than having to put up that capital up front, they would build that cost into their proposal.”

The newly established Landbank is still gathering support. Stuckart encourages anyone who would like to serve on the board, who decides who the land bank will work with, who would like to help fundraise for the land acquisition, or who is interested in selling or giving away their own property to contact him. His email address is [email protected]

“The waiting list for low-income apartments is currently three years,” says Stuckart. “If people really want to see a difference on the street, like a visible difference, we need to build a lot more low-income housing.” ♦

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