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Land for a “Public Purpose,” at What Cost?

Date: Jan 23, 2019
Name: Sarah Wooton
Organization: Partnership for the Public Good
Email: sarah@ppgbuffalo.org
Phone Number: 7162461708
Topic(s): Environment, Housing / Neighborhoods

Research: Affordable housing organizations in several NYS cities and counties (including Buffalo, recently) have been unable to purchase land from their respective municipality or county for less than market value. The ability of affordable housing organizations (e.g. Community Land Trusts) to purchase public land for a nominal fee is paramount because any resources that these organizations fork over to municipalities or county governments are resources that can no longer be used to create affordable housing. These city and county government officials tend to cite state law as the impediment to their disposing of land for a nominal fee. While NYS does have a constitutional prohibition of gifts, certain mechanisms at the municipality level or county level may legally allow for nominal fee disposition. For example, the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency (BURA) policy states that “BURA may dispose of Property for less than fair market value of the Property where the disposition of such Property is intended to further… a ‘Public Purpose.’ ” (The policy then goes on to describe a “Public Purpose.”) Despite this mechanism, the FB Community Land Trust in Buffalo has not been able to purchase land for a nominal fee. Research Issues: • Do all of the municipalities and counties that cited this issue (counties in Adirondacks, Ithaca) have some way to dispose of properties at a nominal fee (perhaps similar to Buffalo’s mechanism)—whether the municipality or county acknowledges it or not? • Please FOIL and otherwise research all sales of city-owned land and structures for less than market rate in last 10 years, excluding homesteads: address, sale amount, who was property sold to, what mechanism (or written policy) did the City or BURA use to facilitate a sale at less than market rate Please contact Sarah Wooton prior to starting this project. She will provide you with contacts for CLTs in the Adirondacks and Ithaca, as well as additional background information.

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