The area’s nascent land banks could soon receive a major boost from the state attorney general’s office.

On Thursday, the state Office of the Attorney General released a report on the state’s first land banks, highlighting the successes of the programs and promising $20 million for the programs, with much aid to come for 10 new programs — including the Cattaraugus County Land Bank Corp. and the Allegany County Land Bank Corp.

Daniel Martonis, who heads the Cattaraugus County Land Bank Corp. board, was pleased to receive the news.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for,” he said, adding the land bank was not established when the last round of grants went out in 2015. “We’re definitely going to be going hard to get as big of a piece of the pie as we can.”

Under a 2011 state law, land banks acquire blighted houses or other property, help restore the building or demolish it if necessary, and sell the property, usually placing it back on the tax rolls. Using seed money and proceeds from sales, the land banks repeat the process.

According to the report, the attorney general’s office has committed more than $30 million through two rounds of grants to the first 10 land banks — with funds coming from a 2012 settlement with banks involved in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007. Land banks have reclaimed almost 2,000 properties from abandonment, putting 701 to productive use and demolishing more than 400 structures.

In Chautauqua County, a land bank has removed close to 70 houses and has sold the lots to adjacent homeowners, in addition to working on other projects. Through the state, the land bank has received $2.8 million in funding since 2013.

By attacking vacant, blighted and “zombie” properties, officials report land banks can stave off the effects of those properties on neighbors. In 2009, the Center for Responsible Lending projected that homeowners living near a foreclosed property, on average, would lose $7,200 in property value, and projected a four-year increase in losses to $20,300 per household.

The Cattaraugus land bank was founded by the county Legislature in December 2014, but Martonis said the application process took a year and a half.

“We just got approved a few months back,” Martonis said, adding between the delay and the fact that “we have no money, so we can’t do anything yet.”

While Schneiderman said land banks have been largely successful, Martonis said there have been some stumbling.

“A lot of the early land banks made a lot of mistakes,” he said, adding the conferences and research allowed by the long application have been helpful. “We’re taking baby steps. We’re learning to walk before we run. We want to be ready.”

On Wednesday, the land bank board asked the county Office of Economic Development to seek input from municipalities on blighted properties, finding what sites around the county should take priority.

The Allegany County Land Bank Corp. was established by the Board of Legislators on Jan. 25. Kevin LaForge, who heads the land bank board and sponsored the legislation creating it, could not be reached for comment.

(Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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