Gov. Phil Murphy
By Joshua Burd
A newly enacted law allows New Jersey municipalities to assemble blighted properties within their borders, creating land banks that they can use to spur much-needed redevelopment.
The measure, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Wednesday, enables towns and cities to designate a land bank entity to obtain vacant, abandoned and neglected sites and dispose of them in ways that ensure they are redeveloped or reused for long-term community benefit. New Jersey municipalities can now acquire those parcels in what officials described as “a systematic fashion,” mimicking a formula that has succeeded in Ohio, Michigan and New York.
Murphy signed the so-called New Jersey Land Bank Law in Newark alongside Mayor Ras Baraka, appearing in the midst of a blighted West Ward area on South Orange Avenue.
“Where some see blight, we see promise,” Murphy said. “Whether it is in Newark, Paterson, Trenton or Camden, the creation of a land bank will be a powerful tool for taking empty and overlooked properties and turning them into places where residents can live and work, and where a new sense of community can be ignited.”
The law, which takes effect immediately, permits municipalities to designate a nonprofit organization or a public entity as its land bank entity, according to a news release. The entity or group can include redevelopment entities, county improvement authorities and departments and agencies of the municipality itself.
Land bank entities will be permitted to acquire properties on their own and act as a municipality’s agent to purchase liens at a tax sale, carry out lien foreclosures and take individual abandoned properties.
“Communities often face complex challenges when securing finances and resources for projects in blighted areas and our hope is that by allowing municipalities to create a public land bank, it will help ease the process of transforming properties from brownfields to successful redevelopment projects,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as commissioner of the state Department of Community Affairs. “These impactful projects have the power to spur on economic growth, create jobs and revitalize an entire community.”
Murphy and other officials said the law provides for accountability by giving community advisory boards mandatory access to certain information and opportunities, allowing the board to comment on the land bank entity’s decisions. It also requires land bank entities to develop and maintain an online, publicly accessible database of current and former land bank properties.
The community advisory board must issue an annual report on the accuracy, integrity, accessibility and comprehensiveness of the land bank entity’s online database.
“This land bank law is monumental for New Jersey and will have an enormous impact on Newark,” Baraka said. “For more than 50 years, vacant and abandoned properties have blighted some of our neighborhoods and affected the quality of life of our residents. With this new law, we are finally turning the page. This important tool will empower the people of Newark to acquire these properties, restore them, and transform them into community assets.”
Primary sponsors of the bill include state Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey.
“Creating land banks and posting available properties online will allow municipalities to create positive redevelopment plans in our communities. Doing this in a responsible way can lead to revitalized cities and neighborhoods that existing residents can still afford to live in,” Ruiz said. “By repurposing foreclosed or abandoned properties as quickly as possible we can prevent them from becoming areas that attract negative activity. It also has the potential to promote economic development and expand housing opportunities in both urban and rural parts of our state.”
Jasey added: “As we work to combat our State’s critical housing shortage, it makes sense for us to equip municipalities with as many tools to provide affordable housing and larger development, as well as reduce the number of vacant and abandoned properties. Designating single entities to act on behalf of municipalities will hopefully expedite the turnover process, and help us find productive uses for these properties.”