Banking crisis

Atlanta Land Bank misses its mission

Way before gentrification hit certain inner-city neighborhoods like a tsunami, Fulton County and the city of Atlanta created an agency to help clean up the gritty pockets.

The agency would take parcels of unwanted land, forgive the long-delinquent taxes and sell them to non-profit groups. At least, that's what the Atlanta Land Bank Authority was supposed to do.

The problem is that the authority, because of poor planning and unresponsiveness, has largely squandered these opportunities.

The Community Housing Resource Center and Habitat for Humanity had planned to use tax-delinquent land to build affordable housing in Cabbagetown, Summerhill and Reynoldstown.

Scott Ball, co-executive director of the Community Housing Resource Center, describes how in 1998 he submitted an application for seven plots on Woodson Street near Grant Park. Back then, the land was worth about $5,000. Today, they're worth quadruple that. Ball waited a year before he heard back from the authority about his application. In the end, the deal feel through.

"I would say it was very hard to get any kind of information on how it was proceeding," Ball says.

Ball says the authority is understaffed and unsure of its purpose. Many of the documents that would have allowed the non-profits to develop land never got signed, Ball says. From the authority's inception in 1992 until the beginning of 2001, the land bank has forgiven back taxes on only 498 properties — a fraction of the properties available.

Nancy Boxhill, a Fulton commissioner and a board member of the authority, says she struggled to keep the authority abreast of its responsibilities.

"But without the resources — staff and monetary — I'm not going to support it," Boxhill announced April 4.

Larry Keating, a Georgia State professor who heads the city's Gentrification Task Force, has studied the merits of the authority. "I'm disturbed that we haven't gotten more done in the 10 years it's been up and running," he says.

But the authority can be salvaged.

"We absolutely don't want to do away with it entirely," Keating says. "We'd like to make it a more effective device."??