Bill would allow small cities, counties to manage, sell problem propertiesMarch 7, 2022
Hundreds of Missouri cities and counties would be able to create agencies to manage, sell, transfer or conduct other real estate actions under a bill advancing in the legislature.
House Bill 2177, sponsored by Rep. Bill Owen, R-Springfield, gives city and small county governments the ability to create organizations called land banks. The bill was unanimously voted out of the Local Government Committee last week.
Initially, the bill would allow approximately 300 cities with populations greater than 1,500 and fewer than 80,000 to create a local agency with authority to acquire vacant, dilapidated or tax-delinquent properties and return them to viable use. An amendment to the bill now requires small counties to establish land banks for cities with fewer than 1,500 people.
“If this were to pass, it would open the entire state up to the ability where you have dilapidated properties that can be acquired and determine how you’re going to repurpose those and put them back into service in your community,” Owen said during testimony before the Local Government Committee on Feb. 23.
David Stokes, director of municipal policy at the Show-Me Institute, submitted written testimony against the bill, citing numerous well-documented problems in St. Louis and Kansas City.
“The process is overly politicized,” Stokes said in an interview with The Center Square. “There’s giving in to the whims of the local aldermen or just holding back property for the dream of large-scale development. That’s really the failure here. They prioritize the dream of a massive development to save the city and they continually reject small homeowners who just want to buy one piece of property to grow their own yard.”
Bill Falkner, the Republican chairman of the Local Government Committee and a former two-term mayor of St. Joseph, told Owen that land banks require patience.
“Just keep in mind it doesn’t happen overnight,” Falkner said. “You’ve got to set up rules, get a funding source and then decide how you’re going to acquire property. We passed it in St. Joe a couple of years ago and we’re still trying to get it off the ground.”
During testimony in support of the bill, Jason Gage, the city manager of Springfield, said there’s no motivation for his government to hold properties.
“The longer we hold on to those, the more we have to spend on them to maintain the property and the more time goes by where we don’t collect taxes,” Gage said. “Quite honestly, if I have resources to spend, I don’t want to spend on maintaining properties. I certainly would like to get those properties bringing in taxes.”
Stokes said adding bureaucracy to small city and county governments won’t create the same efficiencies as the marketplace.
“Why would we be empowering government to take more land as opposed to trying to keep it in the private sector?” Stokes asked. “Frankly, it’s not in the motivation of the average bureaucrat in a small city or county to get rid of every property and put themselves out of a job.”
Robert Ashford, a realtor and member of the city council in Marshal, a city of approximately 13,000 in central Missouri, spoke in favor of the bill focusing on providing additional housing.
“Currently, our small town as about 20 lots and they don’t do anything for the city,” Ashford said. “Out of the roughly 500 houses torn down during the past six or eight years, probably at least a third could have been saved. A land bank would provide flexibility for us to save those properties and provide affordable housing.”
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