Roadblock

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Critics blame secretary of state for failure of land bank bill.

Another effort to clean up neighborhoods in Jackson is being stymied by a state leader.

However, this time the lieutenant governor isn’t being blamed, but rather a man who wants to be the next lieutenant governor.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is being blamed for killing HB 1705, the second attempt at a bill that would have allowed the city of Jackson to create a land bank.

Land banks would give the city a new tool for cleaning up dilapidated properties. They would have the ability to purchase properties, clean them and sell them, as well as raise funds from private donors to do additional cleanup.

Hosemann, who is running for lieutenant governor, would replace Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who for years blocked the Jackson delegation’s efforts to pass “community improvement district” legislation.

CID legislation passed in the 2019 session, but two bills introduced to allow cities to have land banks were killed.

District 64 Rep. Bill Denny heard from a colleague that Hosemann was responsible but didn’t know why.

He had not spoken to the secretary of state at press time.

Jackson lobbyist Quincy Mukoro said Hosemann opposed the bill because he misunderstood how land banks worked.

“There was a misunderstanding that the land bank would take property from the secretary of state,” he said. “The bill did not do any such thing.”

Hosemann spokeswoman Leah Rupp Smith wouldn’t say whether the secretary was opposed to the bill, despite being asked repeatedly. She also wouldn’t say why her office refused to answer the question.

“We are actively working with Jackson city officials and nonprofit and faith-based organizations to eliminate blight and restore properties to productive use,” she said.

Two land bank bills were introduced in the legislature this year. The first, SB 2856, which was authored by District 29 Sen. David Blount, died in the Senate’s Finance Committee.

HB 1705, authored by Denny, passed the house on 110-3 vote, but was dead on arrival in the Senate, where it also died in Finance.

Blount’s bill would have allowed cities across the state to form land banks and was backed by the Mississippi Municipal League. The senator didn’t know if Hosemann was behind the demise of his bill or not.

Denny’s bill was introduced as a local and private measure, specifically for the city of Jackson.

Both measures would have given Jackson a leg up in addressing derelict property, through the authorization of “land banks.”

 

Land banks are quasi-governmental organizations that have legal authority to acquire and clean dilapidated properties, clear their titles and resell them for new development.

Jackson Director of Planning and Development Mukesh Kumar said the banks work differently in different states.

In many cases, land bank authorities are set up by local governments, who then appoint board of directors. Those boards then have the ability to raise funds to purchase dilapidated and abandoned properties, clean them and sell them for future development.

Kumar said that through fund-raising, the entities can acquire a much larger number of properties than the cities and smaller nonprofits, which have limited resources for blight elimination.

Under 1705, Jackson’s land bank would be able to purchase or have abandoned properties donated for the purpose of development. The bill also would have allow the secretary of state to transfer ownership of its properties to the city, to be held, cleaned and sold by the land bank.

Properties that are forfeited the state for nonpayment of ad valorem taxes are transmitted to the secretary of state’s office. That office then sells the properties at public auction.

In recent years, we have sold more than 1,000 parcels in Jackson, returning more than $1 million to the city, schools, and Hinds County, Smith said.

Further, land banks also have the legal authority to clear titles, something municipalities and current nonprofits working on blight elimination in the state are unable to do.

“Without the legislation, we can’t have any entity clearing titles,” Kumar said. “Now it has to go through the appropriate channels, which can be costly.” 

 

Jackson was pushing the legislation this year, in large part, to help the city get a handle on thousands of dilapidated homes.

Estimates vary, but the capital city has anywhere between 5,000 and 11,000 dilapidated homes.

These homes drive down property values and contribute to an increase in crime. The problem has been felt nowhere worse than in West Jackson, around the Jackson Zoological Park.

Many critics of the zoo cite its surroundings as a reason not to visit the park, and point to the number of burned out, boarded up and abandoned structures nearby.

At one point, at least 17 dilapidated homes and commercial properties along West Capitol Street between I-220 and the zoo’s main entrance in the 2900 block.

Land banks would have been able to scoop up those properties en masse, clean them and hold them for when the right developer comes along. The land bank also could sell them to neighbors, who could use them to plant gardens or establish community green spaces.

Land banks would also help cities like Jackson better take advantage of millions of dollars in federal funds earmarked for blight cleanup.

In 2017, the Mississippi Home Corporation received $20 million in Blight Elimination Program (BEP) monies from the federal government.

Cities can apply for the money, but must work with a blight partner, like a land bank or nonprofit, to access the funds.

“Land banks deal in volumes. The Detroit Land Bank Authority, for instance, was able to use a lot of (BEP) money to demo a lot of houses – hundreds (upon) hundreds,” Kumar said. “We probably cannot get to the same scale.”

Jackson has applied for some BEP funds on behalf of Habitat for Humanity and the Jackson Housing Authority and is working with other blight partners on small cleanup projects. 

A good start, but not nearly enough to make a dent in the city’s blight problem. Said Kumar, “We need to get to the point where we can do a hundred at a time.” 

 

 

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Cathy Haynie, head of school at Christ Covenant School, is serving JAAIS (Jackson Area Association of Independent Schools) as president this year.