The Land Bank: Activating Spaces for Neighborhood Growth

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Thousands of properties in Omaha are abandoned. Their owners have disappeared, they have delinquent taxes, and they lack marketability. These properties are vacant, create blight, and serve as dumping and gathering grounds – often for illegal activity.

The Omaha Municipal Land Bank was established to help return these parcels of land to the Omaha community. Most properties are in District 2 (North Omaha). After years of abandonment, they have unpaid taxes and special assessment surtaxes, which are meant to support local infrastructure projects. If these parcels were acquired, the new owner would be responsible for any monetary encumbrances. These would need to be resolved before the property could be developed. The Land Bank was established as a quasi-public 501(c)3 nonprofit with the power to extinguish these existing unpaid taxes and special assessments.

Since its establishment in 2014, the Land Bank has activated and returned over 200 parcels of land to the community.

We are focused on creating true community assets within neighborhoods. When we sell a property, we sell it for a project that complies with plans and future visions for the area. In 2020, we changed our policies to prioritize property sales to legacy residents in historically redlined communities. This new policy brings the community to the table and brings generational wealth building to the forefront.

The Land Bank typically acquires property through tax foreclosure. When a property becomes eligible for tax foreclosure, residents are long gone. The market has rejected the property multiple times over many years and is frequently in lousy shape. Most often, if there was a structure on the site, it was removed before Land Bank acquisition. Suppose the city demolishes a private building due to the owner’s negligence. In that case, the demolition costs can be charged to the owner. This can result in a demolition lien on the property.

We work with Douglas County to foreclose on these abandoned properties on their behalf. In exchange, the Land Bank takes ownership of parcels located within Omaha City Limits after the foreclosure process is complete. Once acquired, we extinguish the taxes and special assessments, creating a property free of financial burdens. We then maintain the properties and actively seek a buyer, getting the property back into productive use.

A home along Spencer Street exemplifies the Land Bank’s work putting a property back into reuse. The three-bedroom house was appraised for $25,000 in 2019. It got a complete renovation including updated electrical, plumbing, and HVAC, refinished hardwood floors and built-ins, new windows, repainting, and landscaping. The home is currently appraised for $105,000 and provides safe, affordable housing to a local family.

The Land Bank usually has more than 400 parcels for sale. These properties can be used for housing, community gardens, pocket parks, or anything allowed by zoning. Any residents interested in purchasing a Land Bank property should visit omahalandbank.org, where they can view properties and fill out an application. They can also reach out to us at 402.800.1240, and we would be happy to answer any questions about our services.

This guest blog was written by Shannon Snow, executive director of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank.

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