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54 Washburn L. J. 3 (2015)


This essay is based on my closing presentation at the Washburn Law Journal's 2015 symposium entitled “The Future of Housing -- Equity, Stability and Sustainability.” It explores how land banks and land trusts promote social goods, including socioeconomic integration, by connecting with and shielding against, respectively, market forces. Both engage in stewardship of land. Land banks take temporary ownership of vacant, abandoned properties in order to make them available for productive use. Land trusts hold land indefinitely to ensure a social purpose is met. Community land trusts hold land for a purpose that is responsive to the human environment, often permanently affordable housing in areas where affordable housing is rare to nonexistent. Land banks encourage people with choices to move into neighborhoods beset by abandonment and poverty. Community land trusts allow lower-income residents to become long-term members of neighborhoods otherwise inaccessible to them. Land banks reduce transaction costs to get the market moving. Land trusts increase transaction costs in order to protect affordable housing and other public goods against elimination by market-driven transfers.

The use by these two publicly minded real estate market interventions of opposing tools in starkly different types of neighborhoods raises the following questions: First, do they meet somewhere in the middle? Second, does sustaining neighborhoods of choice hinge on the handoff of some critical mass of real property from land banks to land trusts? The answers to these both questions are negative, if we focus our attention solely on the work done directly by land banks and land trusts. The neighborhoods that warrant the housing stewardship activity of land trusts are just too different from those needing the help of land banks to talk of a continuum of care between the two poles of community land resource control. But, if land banking and its conceptual counterpart, “land trusting”, are thought of more broadly as the strategic adjustment of transaction costs for the promotion of social goods, such as residential socioeconomic integration, then an array of intermediate possibilities present themselves.

The essay begins with a brief examination of the importance of residential socioeconomic integration and how it might be advanced appropriately. After looking at some misconceptions about the market’s role in segregating neighborhoods by class, I then explore how land banks and land trusts intervene to move neighborhoods toward a healthy diversity. The essay concludes with a discussion of land banking and, particularly, land trusting as alternatives to formal stewardship that nevertheless also foster the needed diversity of housing types, land tenure types, and ultimately, resident socioeconomic status to sustain neighborhoods of choice.



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