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Can Land Banks Get Us Out of This Mess?

A network of land banks in the U.S. could help prevent the long-term damage that some cities saw after the Great Recession, say bipartisan backers in Congress.
A vacant home in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. Land banks have been a common technique for helping cities address abandoned properties.
A vacant home in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago. Land banks have been a common technique for helping cities address abandoned properties.Tim Boyle/Bloomberg

The Great Recession of 2008 tore through small towns and industrial cities, leaving lasting damage throughout the Great Lakes region and other legacy cities. The devastation of the foreclosure crisis can still be felt in the form of hypervacancy and underwater mortgages, an inversion of the affordability crisis as it plays out on the coasts.

The Covid-19 recession may very well be broader. Already, small businesses and other commercial properties are feeling tremendous pressure, while the pandemic’s toll on homeowners is still unclear. Even though the driver of this economic downturn is much different from the last one, some lawmakers are betting that one of the tools that took off in the wake of the foreclosure crisis can be expanded to protect towns and cities from the havoc that the pandemic-fueled economic downtown stands to wreak.