Mayor highlights new property condition survey and changes to the Landbank Authority following racial equity review

August 11, 2022

Mayor Greg Fischer today joined city leaders, Landbank Authority officials, and developers to celebrate strides made toward tackling vacant and abandoned properties, detail the findings of a new property condition survey, and highlight changes to the Landbank Authority processes.

“Neighbors feel the negative impact of even one vacant or abandoned property on a block, but on some streets in our city, particularly in west Louisville, we have blocks full of these properties, which can attract squatters and criminal activity,” the Mayor said. “Our goal is to revitalize areas with large numbers of vacant and abandoned properties by getting them into the hands of people in the neighborhood to prevent displacement and return them to productive use, and by addressing deteriorating properties, we can help prevent more properties from becoming vacant and abandoned.”

The Landbank Authority is a joint agency of Louisville Metro Government (LMG), the Jefferson County Public School District, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Authority, which is staffed by the Louisville Metro Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) and overseen by a Board of Directors, acquires, manages, and sells distressed properties and vacant unimproved parcels to responsible developers.

Racial Equity Review

In 2020, the Authority began a racial equity review of its policies, programs, and procedures, and this year, the Authority’s board is reviewing program and policy changes that prioritize the sale of Landbank properties for owner occupancy and will result in more equitable practices.

“The Landbank Board and the OHCD team has worked diligently to improve property and home ownership in neighborhoods impacted from vacant and abandoned properties. Over the past few years, we have engaged city officials, as well as community members, to make policies and opportunities fairer and more equitable for local residents looking to build wealth, not only for themselves but for their family’s future,” said Dr. Rev. Jamesetta Ferguson, member of the Landbank Authority Board of Directors. “When sales resume in mid-September, I believe the residents wishing to engage the process will begin to reap more benefits from the new and improved policies put in place.”

The Authority stopped accepting applications to purchase city-owned properties in June to implement the changes and expects to begin accepting applications again on September 15. The proposed changes include:

  • Collecting demographic data on Landbank buyers;
  • Creating a $1 million Landbank Homeownership Improvement Fund to assist with the cost of rehabbing Landbank properties for properties going to an owner-occupant;
  • Eliminating first-come, first-serve options for several Landbank programs to offer more equitable access to properties;
  • Revising scoring criteria for multiple programs to favor neighborhood residents and homeownership; and
  • Changing applicant eligibility to its Lot On My Block Program to allow long-term renters to purchase vacant lots on their block.

The Authority now is seeking community input on the proposed changes. Community members can view proposed changes and provide feedback by visiting www.louisvilleky.gov/vacant.

“The highest and best use for these properties is to get them in the hands of residents who live nearby and to use these properties to increase affordable housing in our city and homeownership for our Black residents,” Mayor Fischer said. “Changes to our Landbank programs identified through this racial equity review will help us better meet these goals.”

Through the Authority, LMG has sold more than 700 properties since 2011 to small developers, community-based organizations and individuals for renovations, or use vacant lots as side yards, community gardens, or for new construction.

Property Condition Survey

In 2020, OHCD also hired Dutch GIS company Cyclomedia to conduct a property condition survey throughout Jefferson County by working with the Jefferson County Property Valuation Administration as it conducted its property tax assessments.

Phase I of the survey, which was recently completed, focused on neighborhoods in west and south Louisville, downtown and its edge neighborhoods, and Old Louisville – neighborhoods that historically have had the most vacant and abandoned properties. Phase II, which will include the remainder of Jefferson County, will be completed in 2024.

The survey is only looking at properties with structures on them. Roughly 8 percent of the structures in the Phase I survey area were given a severity ranking, ranging from slightly damaged to presumed abandoned and unlivable. The condition of most of the structures did not warrant a ranking.

Based on the Phase I survey results, LMG found that there are about 1,500 structures deemed unlivable and presumed vacant and abandoned within the survey area. About 2,500 structures were found to have slight damage, and an additional 1,300 properties were identified as having moderate to significant damage.

“In addition to identifying currently vacant and abandoned properties, the survey helps us to identify properties that are not vacant and abandoned yet but are deteriorating, so that we can intervene. Depending on the state of the property and its occupancy and ownership status, this could include providing more resources through the city’s home repair programs for occupied properties or initiating additional foreclosures on unoccupied structures where ownership cannot be established,” said OHCD Director Laura Grabowski.

City efforts to address vacant and abandoned properties

During Mayor Fischer’s administration, the city has successfully lobbied for state-level law changes to help the city deal with vacant and abandoned properties and return them to productive use in a more efficient and timely manner.

These law changes include giving code enforcement liens priority over almost all other liens, which has allowed LMG to initiate over 1,000 foreclosures; making spot condemnation more feasible for local governments, helping move properties into foreclosure and toward repurposing; and allowing local governments to petition courts to appoint conservators over abandoned properties to expedite their rehabilitation. LMG’s conservatorship efforts are focused on preserving historic properties.

In partnership with Metro Council, LMG has made investments in clear boarding and expanding the Department of Codes and Regulations mowing crews so that abandoned properties still look maintained and discourage negative activity. The city also has increased investments in foreclosures of unoccupied, abandoned properties and the demolition of unstable and unsafe structures.

The Landbank Authority property inventory contains more than 600 vacant parcels, mostly lots. Most of the properties deemed vacant and abandoned are not city-owned. LMG works to find the owners or property heirs, if possible, and will initiate a foreclosure on problem properties or seek to demolish unstable structures that pose a danger.

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