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Why Richmond Needs a Land Bank

The Past

The distribution and use of land are key to Richmond's history.

While a land bank cannot single-handedly remedy every injustice of the past, the context of our city's history helps us understand why a land bank is an important tool for moving toward greater social equity. 

Pre-20th Century

Shortly after landing at Jamestown in 1607, English explorers sailed up the James River and encountered Powhatan people near the Fall Line.  After several failed attempted, the English conquered the land that would become Richmond after battles with the Powhatan people in 1644. 

After the Revolutionary War, property ownership was a privilege of the wealthy. Lower-class white residents lived in tenements while blacks were enslaved. This was true through the Civil War which decimated the city. From 1867 to 1914, Richmond annexed it's surrounding territory five times. This new land for the city was available only to the wealthy white citizens. 

20th Century

In 1937, the Home Owners' Lending Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency, graded Richmond neighborhoods from "A" through "D" to designate where government-backed home loans should be made. Communities with high concentrations of black households, regardless of neighborhood quality ot stability, were consistently rated "D."  Marked red on maps, these "redlined" neighborhoods were systematically denied access to the same wealth-building opportunities provided to white communities. Therefore. black families in Richmond were prevented in building generational wealth from land and homeownership. 

After WWII the federal government began to offer funding for localities to engage in "slum clearance," or "urban renewal," to tear down high-poverty, predominantly black neighborhoods created by discriminatory policies. Interstates 95/64 and the Downtown Expressway were routed directly through Richmond's minority neighborhoods, including Carver, Jackson Ward, and Randolph.

21st Century

Despite temporary gains, the homeownership rates for households of color in Richmond remain far below those of white households. The real estate market crash led to higher rates of vacancy, delinquency, and abandonment in many of the City's lower-income neighborhoods. 

The Present

Richmond's real estate market is heating up, but the benefits are unevenly distributed.

An increasing number of the City’s neighborhoods have seen dramatic growth in home prices and property values over the past ten years. On the other hand, many neighborhoods in Richmond still suffer from significant numbers of abandoned properties that lower property values and challenge residents’ efforts to improve the community. These trends perpetuate spatial patterns of inequality.

As the demand for housing has risen, the supply in the city has not kept pace. White first time homeowners and downsizing couples are competing for a limited number of existing homes in Richmond. In Church Hill, the number of black homeowners declined by 419 from 2000 to 2015 while the number of white homeowners increased by 468. From 2012 to 2016, the average home price in Church Hill rose from $165,000 to $215,000. Without active measures to secure land for affordable homes, many long-term residents will have significant difficulty finding a home in these neighborhoods. 
Despite Richmond's rapid homes sales market, roughly 7,000 tax delinquent properties in the city, about 10% of all the city's land parcels. 2,000 of these properties have been delinquent for five years or more. These long-term delinquent properties act as liabilities to the immediate and surrounding communities.
Differences in vacancy, affordability, and market activity throughout Richmond are intricately connected to other socioeconomic indicators. Solving these problem properties by addressing communities needs will begin to remedy such inequalities.  
We must improve the process to return tax delinquent properties to productive use.

The current tax auction process generates needed revenue but does not build stronger communities.

The City of Richmond currently auctions most tax delinquent properties to the highest bidders. Although these auctions provide significant, immediate revenue to the City, neighborhoods where many of these properties are located do not receive significant change. Just one in three tax delinquent properties auctions from 2010 to 2017 has been significantly rehabilitated or developed. The remainder sit unimproved, unused, or vacant. Land banks provide an alternative conduit for the disposition of tax delinquent properties. By soliciting citizen and nonprofit input, land bank establish community-driven processes for the transformation of delinquent and vacant properties. 

Recent direct sale activities to non-profits is insufficient.

In accordance with state law, the City may initiate a direct sale of certain tax delinquent properties to qualified nonprofit organizations to support affordable housing and other community-oriented development. To date, fewer than 30 properties have been transferred to five nonprofits via this method.

How will we do it?

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