The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (“Land Bank”) has announced the hiring of its first-ever Executive Director, Jocelyn Gordon, as well as plans for the 2014 implementation of a number of critical initiatives following a grant award of $2.087 million from NYS Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman in October 2013. Attorney General Schneiderman’s Community Revitalization Initiative (“CRI”) created a $20 million funding pool in 2013 to assist designated land banks across New York State to rebuild and revitalize their communities; the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Bank was one of six awarded funding last October.

“Western New York families were deeply affected by the foreclosure crisis, especially due to the number of vacant and abandoned properties that resulted from it,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “By providing the funding for land banks, we can give these communities the tools they need to rebuild and help local families get back on their feet. Given Jocelyn Gordon’s impressive track record, I have no doubt that she is the right choice to lead this initiative and help put Western New York back on the path to economic prosperity.”

“With an Executive Director now in place, the Land Bank has someone at the helm to guide it through a transformational year. I welcome Jocelyn Gordon to the post and look forward to working with her as Erie County continues to address the issue of blighted, vacant housing in our communities,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “I also thank Attorney General Schneiderman for the funding commitment he has shown to our Land Bank, which demonstrates his belief in our area and the strength of the partnerships we have formed to remedy the problems of distressed properties. With his help, in 2014 the Land Bank will be working on revitalizing a number of properties and neighborhoods across Erie County that we could not have done otherwise.”

City of Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said, “”With the reduction in the population of Western New York that started a few decades ago, there has been a massive amount of vacant properties that have fallen into blight.  With the resurgence of Buffalo and all of Western New York as a place to move to, live, and stay and raise a family, the funds from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will help in two ways: addition through addition…rehabbing homes for families to move into and be proud of, and, addition through subtraction…removing blight and allowing neighborhoods to no longer look at eye sores and take back pride in their neighborhoods.  This region has needed this for some time, but the future is here and the New York State Attorney General, County Executive, Ms. Gordon and all the board members should be proud, as this is the axis for which this region will progressively spring forward.”

In 2013, Erie County funded a pilot Land Bank project involving the acquisition of five properties, two in Tonawanda, two in Cheektowaga, and one in the Village of Angola. The land bank is working with the municipalities to determine appropriate reuse options for these parcels. Efforts similar to these will be enhanced and expanded through the grant funding awarded by the Attorney General, which will allow for greater penetration into distressed properties around the County.

“Vacant homes and abandoned properties can quickly pull down neighborhoods contributing to community blight and justifiable frustrations for neighbors working to invest in their homes and municipalities working to build stronger communities,” said Congressman Brian Higgins, Co-Chair of the Congressional Revitalizing Older Cities Task Force. “Through an innovative intermunicipal partnership our county and cities are demonstrating real leadership in addressing these challenges with the support of National Mortgage Settlement funding made possible thanks to the successful consumer advocacy of Attorney General Schneiderman.”

In addition to hiring a new Executive Director to increase capacity and implement operations, the Land Bank will be using CRI funds to carry out several programs, including demolishing 55 blighted properties that are currently owned by the cities of Buffalo and Lackawanna, rehabilitating between eight and ten properties around Erie County to facilitate their return to the tax rolls and productive use, and rehabilitating ten sidelots in Erie County. These vacant and disused lots, which had become eyesores in the community, will be cleaned and possibly sold to adjacent neighbors who will maintain them in the future. By working with municipalities, the land bank will also create a rehabilitation and homeownership program to identify distressed vacant properties that may be good candidates for redevelopment and resale as affordable housing.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, “Our Land Bank is an important tool for the revitalization of neighborhoods in Buffalo. I look forward to working with Jocelyn Gordon, who was hired to provide the leadership and focus required to implement a number of initiatives that address the blight and vacant housing issue in Buffalo and Erie County. With today’s announcement, coupled with Attorney General Schneiderman’s recent funding commitment to our Land Bank, Buffalo has been given additional tools and resources needed to confront this important issue, helping our community reach its full potential.”

Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary F. Holtz, who was a founding member of a group of area public officials and community organizers that evolved into the Erie County Distressed Properties Task Force, which played a key role in the development of the Land Bank, stated, “The funding made available by the Attorney General has allowed us to hire an executive director which was a crucial next step.  Cheektowaga looks forward to working with Jocelyn Gordon in the rehabilitation of distressed properties in order to prevent blight.”

Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana added, “The Land Bank is another great resource we can utilize to address vacant and abandoned properties in the Town of Tonawanda. We look forward to working with Executive Director, Jocelyn Gordon, and the Board of Directors on shared opportunities in the future. We must be able to return these problem properties to productive re-use as soon as possible.”

Land Bank Executive Director Jocelyn Gordon stated, “The Land Bank will enable a unique blend of economic development, community building and regional strategic planning. Western New York is enjoying a special time right now.  We’re still struggling, but we’re reinventing ourselves too.  I’m thrilled and honored to lead this charge and help shape a small part of our community story going forward.”

Ms. Gordon has a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from the University at Buffalo and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Canisius College.  She has worked throughout Erie County, New York State, and in more than 14 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces as a community development and public engagement specialist.

Commissioner of the Erie County Department of Environment & Planning Maria Whyte said, “I am thrilled to have Jocelyn Gordon on board as BENLIC’s new Executive Director. She emerged as an excellent candidate from a crowded field of highly qualified applicants.  Jocelyn’s extensive experience in developing comprehensive plans for municipalities, together with her recently acquired MBA, allows her to bring a wide variety of skills and relationships to the table.  We are lucky to have her and grateful that the OAG resources were available to fund staffing.  As Chairperson of the Corporation, I am excited about our ability to dramatically scale up operations and chip away at one of our region’s most vexing problems, vacant and abandoned property.”

CRI grant awards are based on a competitive, two-round application process with the first round of funding occurring in October 2013 and round two scheduled for October 2014. The funding committed through the CRI Initiative will allow the Land Bank to leverage an additional $2 million in County and City support and will aid in establishing long-term sustainability for future Land Bank operations.

The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation was established in 2012 and includes the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Tonawanda. In an effort led by Erie County and the City of Buffalo, the land bank created a new standard for municipal cooperation in addressing the housing crisis and proliferation of vacant properties plaguing Erie County. According to 2010 Census data, there were more than 36,000 vacant properties in Erie County, more than 20,000 of which were in the City of Buffalo; the Land Bank also addresses properties in the County’s 25 towns and 16 villages.