Newmark Mayor Ras Baraka speaks during the fall 2018 opening of One Theater Square, a luxury apartment building in the city. — Courtesy: Dranoff Properties/NJPAC
By Joshua Burd
Local officials in Newark are one step closer to launching a land banking program that would allow it to acquire and assemble blighted properties for redevelopment or restoration.
Mayor Ras Baraka announced Thursday that the city council has voted to advance an agreement that establishes the program and designates Invest Newark, the municipality’s economic development arm, as the new entity overseeing the land bank. The measure still requires a second vote, but is expected to pass and pave the way for a new community revitalization tool.
“The Land Bank gives us the opportunity to be very creative, imaginative and expeditious about how we deal with properties that have been blighted for decades,” Baraka said in a prepared statement. “Instead of spending millions of dollars trying to keep properties up, we can make them a key to the revitalization of our neighborhoods.”
Enabled by state legislation, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed last summer, the program aims to help cities and towns tackle the scores of vacant and abandoned properties within their borders. Many of those properties sit idle and pay no taxes, but Newark officials noted that cities have lacked a key tool to help them gain control over the problem.
Through land banks, communities can now acquire and maintain vacant and abandoned properties in what the state describes as a “systematic fashion,” then dispose of them in ways that ensure they are redeveloped or reused for long-term community benefit. The program can help towns and cities assemble and restore problem properties and put them back on the tax rolls, with a designated land bank entity spearheading those efforts.
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. State officials have noted that the program would mimic a formula that has succeeded in Ohio, Michigan and New York, while also hoping that Newark will serve as a model for other cities across New Jersey.