Over the past few years, I have come across news articles with blaring headlines like: “Developer shirks responsibility as housing officials stood by.” The eye-catching images and graphics pull a reader into what appears to be another story corruption about a city’s land bank giving a developer a sweetheart deal.
Contrary to what these fantastic articles like to imply, I don’t accept that sweetheart deals are a part of the urban redevelopment landscape. My experience working with land banks has shown me they are run with a high degree of integrity and oversight. And most land banks are grounded in the concept of community-benefits first. Sweetheart deals for backroom operators are not par for the course.
The much more common issues leading up to these “corruption” stories are a combination of:
This combination of organizational challenges makes the allegation of sweetheart dealing hard to prove or disprove. Once the allegation is made, whether true or not, the damage to public confidence is hard to undo.
Land banks can and do overcome these public relations nightmares.
Many successful land banks have adopted strong oversight policies and perform thorough gate-keeping functions. They have also streamlined disposition practices to accommodate the needs of local government partners without sacrificing the process. These key functions are among the things eProperty Innovations helps our clients set in motion.
When a negative story hits the news, it often points to a failure in the data systems used to manage the details of transactions. The right hand and left hand may not know what the other is doing.
A property data management system provides all parties with an accountability trail when questions arise.
During my own experience running a land bank in a challenging political environment, it was a top priority to adopt a comprehensive data system to manage our property transaction data. Paramount to me professionally was for us to operate transparently and with high accountability to all those who entrusted our organization with funds and property. Personally, I wanted to maintain my reputation. This is what led to my introduction to ePropertyPlus.
I survived that land bank job with my reputation intact, and the organization I once led continues to be one of the most vibrant land banks in the country with millions of dollars in property and proceeds passing through its hands each year. Since its formation, there has been nary a whiff of scandal or impropriety. Though from time to time, they have to suffer the indignity of seeing a transaction unpacked in its most unflattering light.
That organization and so many others have been well-served by having a property data management system with internal controls to track each property. Team members can pull up transaction histories on a moment’s notice, so they know who touched a property or property record and what was done with it. This strong property management system gives them a level of protection many others wish in hindsight they had. It is much easier to handle difficult questions when you have the facts and the data to back them up at your fingertips.
Beyond Data Management
In my current work for eProperty Innovations as a consultant to land banks, I help clients set up the governing framework used to run their land bank. This includes the bylaws, policies and procedures, and various processes by which property is acquired, stabilized, and disposed of. I also counsel teams on setting up strong data management systems. It is the right thing to do and, frankly, I don’t want my clients to end up on the wrong end of an unflattering news story or an indictment.
It can be so easy to prevent scandalous news stories about your organization. Urban redevelopment requires land banks to make data-based decisions and be transparent about their processes. Your organization’s reputation with the community depends on setting up smart, data-driven systems. Work with others who understand those core values and help you deliver the best results. Maybe, just maybe, you will be recognized by the news for the positive impact you make in the community.
About the Author: Brian White was the first director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority and serves as a consultant to land bank organizations in the US.