Progress on Jackson’s property blight
After reading your recent article on land bank bills filed in the 2019 legislative session, I wanted to write and offer your readers my perspective.
Following discussions with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and his staff, I authored the first ever bill (Senate Bill No. 2856) to allow local governments to create land banks to deal with blighted property. I want to thank Mayor Lumumba and Jackson officials for their commitment and research in this effort. Land banks have been successful in other cities and can work here. Improving on our current law, land banks can acquire property, assemble larger tracts for buyers, speed up the resolution of title problems, and receive significant federal funding for clean up.
As chairman of the Senate Public Property Committee, I called a hearing where we heard from experts and private citizens who have worked on this issue for years. We garnered the support of the Mississippi Home Corporation (which has millions in federal funds waiting to be spent for this purpose) and the Mississippi Municipal League. After my bill did not pass out of another committee, we continued our efforts with more meetings and amendments to other bills, as well supporting a local bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Denny. Ultimately, however, we were unsuccessful in passing a bill through the process this year.
Blighted property is a serious problem in Jackson and in other parts of the state. Some of us have been working on this issue for years. I worked at the Secretary of State’s Office (for Dick Molpus and Eric Clark) for 13 years prior to being elected to the State Senate. The office receives land abandoned for non-payment of taxes, many of which are blighted. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has made the program better. Together, we worked to pass my legislation to allow for online sales and auctions of tax-forfeited property. The new process has been a success.
Specifically, Secretary Hosemann has done much to help Jackson with land issues. I, along with other members of the Jackson legislative delegation, have helped promote the Secretary of State’s Jackson-specific auctions to get properties back on the tax rolls. In the past five years, the office has sold about 2,800 parcels, returning them to private ownership, and sending more than $800,000 to city and Jackson Public Schools. As a proud Democrat, I certainly don’t agree with Secretary Hosemann about everything, but his work on land issues has been exemplary.
We need to keep doing more to clean up blighted property. This is part of an overall effort to improve our capital city, an effort that depends on a productive partnership between the city and the state. I will continue to push for a state land bank law. I look forward to working with Mayor Lumumba, the next Secretary of State, and other leaders from the city and state. I am optimistic we can pass a strong land bank bill in the next legislative session.
David Blount lives in Jackson and represents District 29 (Hinds Co.) in the State Senate.