Aug 7, 2023
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August 7, 2023
Patsy Durham

A First-Hand View of Waterbury’s Land Bank Strategy

How Waterbury Land Bank’s early focus on strategic partnerships set the tone for an encouraging first year.

When the City of Waterbury wanted to create a new land bank to support the city’s community and economic development activities, Mayor Neil O’Leary appointed an advisory committee of community, business, and civic leaders. He tasked them to work with city staff to develop the land bank. Fred Luedke, Chairperson of the Waterbury Land Bank and a former Alderman, was one of those brought in early on to serve on the committee. He shared his experience as a member of the advisory committee and on through to his present role as the chair of the Waterbury Land Bank.

The creation of a new land bank

Back in 2018, having conducted a comprehensive evaluation of their blighted property strategy, Waterbury decided to create a land bank. City leadership envisioned the land bank as a vital part of their ongoing community revitalization activities. They wanted to create a nimble land bank that could reactivate property more efficiently than the city could on its own.

Mayor O’Leary provided a strong vision and sense of ownership and set an aggressive timetable for the project. Partnering closely with the city and aligning the land bank to support the city’s community and economic development activities needed to be a major factor in their land bank strategy. The Waterbury Land Bank Advisory Committee also knew that they had to respect the standing relationships with other groups in the city, ensuring that no one was alienated.

How the relationship with eProperty grew

Fred and the other community leaders recruited to serve on the advisory board were new both to the specifics of land banking and the standard community revitalization procedures. They quickly realized how much they could benefit from having a trusted advisor to guide them. They wanted to ensure the land bank could focus intently on bringing helpful resources to the Waterbury community, complementing the pride residents already had for their neighborhoods. In late 2019, they issued an RFP for a consultant and ultimately selected eProperty Innovations.

What Set eProperty Innovations Apart

  • deep knowledge and experience of Connecticut land bank legislation
  • wide pool of “best practices” to draw on from experience standing up other land banks
  • existing, positive relationships with the City of Waterbury staff

Under state legislation adopted in 2020, Connecticut land banks are nonprofits created by cities, but operated independently. The eProperty Innovations team partnered closely with the Waterbury Land Bank Advisory Committee to guide and suggest best practices through all of the steps needed to establish the land bank. Luedke recounts the specific things eProperty Innovations did to help them launch the land bank, including:

  • Providing training on land banks and land banking to the committee
  • Helping draft the enabling ordinance required to create the land bank under Connecticut’s state law
  • Drafting comprehensive policies and procedures for property, procurement, and operations
  • Creating a budget and budget estimating tool for planning and forecasting
  • Working with counsel to create a Memorandum of Understanding between the land bank and the city to facilitate property transfers
  • Contributing to filing of the 501c3 application and other filings
  • Leading the search for the land bank’s first Executive Director and subsequent staff and contractors
  • Creating training and orientation materials for the board and staff

When it came to Waterbury Land Bank’s first executive director, the eProperty Innovations consulting team organized and spearheaded the candidate search, then assisted the board with interviewing and narrowing down the candidates.

When the land bank’s board decided to complete a data collection project to update their knowledge of housing market conditions, the eProperty Innovations team worked with bank staff to customize their ePropertyPlus software to support the project. Their ePropertyPlus software was customized to allow land bank staff to easily collect and add their specific project data directly into the software, making evaluation and decision-making more efficient. The land bank has also developed a plan for completing in-fill housing development on vacant lots, guided by housing conditions assessment data the land bank is gathering using ePropertyPlus.

How the Waterbury Land Bank is driving efficiency and effectiveness

The City of Waterbury had adopted ePropertyPlus to help manage its property data and processes back in 2019, and the land bank inherited the software once it got operational. Having ePropertyPlus set up from day one gave the land bank a leg up on other newly formed organizations that often struggle with data management and DIY systems. One of the challenges confronting staff was that their data was outdated, so the land bank decided to conduct the Conditions Assessment to update data and, more importantly, provide the staff and board with data to support strategic decision-making about which properties to pursue and why.

Over the last year, staff have also updated ePropertyPlus property records with recent data on code violations, unpaid taxes, and whether or not a property is vacant. They are also leveraging ePropertyPlus’s native GIS mapping to display data, the Mobile App to collect and upload data and photos from field inspections, and its Public Site as a platform to market property and accept online applications.

The Waterbury Land Bank one year in

The Waterbury Land Bank marked a full year of operation in June 2023. This first anniversary finds the land bank well-established as an organization: staffed by highly-competent professionals and led by a board that has a clear sense of direction and purpose. Fred shared that the feeling among the board and staff is that they are “really up and running.” More importantly, the Waterbury Land Bank staff are confident and in a strong position to pursue acquisitions of property.

They have succeeded where many other similar organizations have stalled by building successful partnerships across the city, engaging in thoughtful outreach, and leveraging ePropertyPlus and it’s robust property data management tools to inform their decision making.

Fred shared that, “The city plans to transfer its first ten properties to us in August, which we’re excited about. We’re working closely with the Waterbury planning and zoning departments to make it a smooth transition.” Other encouraging developments have begun to pop up from local property owners. A few have already expressed interest in donating properties they can’t develop or can’t afford to keep directly to the Waterbury Land Bank, which can then find a better use for those properties.

Looking to the future of Waterbury

The Waterbury Land Bank is excited to continue reaching more milestones with the eProperty Innovations team as their advisor on call and with the ePropertyPlus software.

Over the coming months and years, we are so excited to see the heights the Waterbury Land Bank will reach!