publicly-owned land: overview » introduction » identify opportunities
In most communities, publicly-owned land is controlled by numerous separate agencies, such as school boards, hospital boards, fire and police departments, and departments of transportation. Without an express mandate or meaningful incentive to do so, these agencies are unlikely to take a hard look at their property holdings to determine if some could be used to support the development of affordable homes. A formal structure such as an interagency task force can facilitate the identification of sites that have development potential, create a unified list of these parcels, and improve public and private awareness of these hidden assets. Because few agencies like to give up land they think they might need in the future, or go through the headache of new construction over or next to existing buildings, strong support from the community's leadership as well as tangible incentives for the agencies may be needed to ensure this process is effective.

Click on the links below to learn more about identifying suitable publicly-owned parcels:
Chatham Square
Photo courtesy of ULI Development Case Studies
Work across agencies to identify suitable publicly-owned land for conversion to affordable housing.

Think creatively about the opportunities on publicly-owned land. For example, actively-used public sites can be transformed into mixed-use properties that include affordable housing.

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Identify opportunities on publicly-owned land across all agencies
Numerous government departments and agencies, with and without housing-related missions, hold surplus or underutilized property which could be suitable for the development of affordable homes. An interagency task force can ensure that the inventory of potential parcels is as comprehensive as possible.

Other pages in this section:

Fall Creek PlacePrioritize the use of suitable publicly-owned land for affordable homes
Through legal mechanisms such as ordinances and codes, governments can authorize the use of underutilized or surplus public land for affordable homes whenever feasible. Ordinances and codes can also clarify procedures for marketing available parcels and ensuring that affordable housing goals are met.

Elm Brook HomesReduce barriers to the disposition of publicly-owned land for affordable homes
Standard disposition procedures may hinder the transfer of publicly-owned property for affordable homes. Special transfer procedures, including expedited timelines and the authorization of below-market sales can facilitate the use of publicly-owned land for affordable homes

Click here to view other resources on the use of publicly-owned land.

Work across agencies to identify publicly-owned land for conversion to affordable housing

Interagency coordination through a task force or other process can uncover underutilized or surplus land that housing agencies would have been unlikely to find on their own. Communities may want to maintain this information in a unified and regularly updated list of underutilized and surplus land, either for internal use or as a resource available to developers and other interested members of the public. In addition, participation on a task force may help agencies without a housing focus to understand the strong need for additional affordable homes in the area and the public purpose that is served by using publicly-owned land to increase the supply of affordable homes.

For example, as part of New York City's New Housing Marketplace plan to create or preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing in ten years, the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development has worked with other city departments to acquire underutilized and surplus sites for affordable housing development. These sites include a historic public school in East Harlem and other Department of Education properties, underutilized parking lots owned by the Department of Transportation, a former hospital on Staten Island, and surplus land at a Brooklyn psychiatric hospital.

Click here to read about New York City's New Housing Marketplace plan.
Solutions in Action
The Office of Real Estate Management in the Massachusetts Division of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) maintains an inventory of all state-owned real property, including property identified as surplus, in the MAssets (Massachusetts Assets) database. Users of the database, or the PDF report created from it, can find out which properties have been declared surplus and a variety of details about each property such as the location, responsible agency, acreage, and the square-footage of any structures on the land.

Click here to leave this site and read more about MAssets.

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Think creatively about the opportunities on publicly-owned land

The opportunities presented by publicly-owned land extend beyond simply allocating vacant land for new housing development or demolishing unused buildings for new construction from the ground up. With a little creativity, housing development opportunities can be found in public sites that are in active use as well as in outdated structures that the community cannot or will not demolish. In high-growth housing markets, communities may wish to consider whether certain sites, such as hospitals, public housing, or schools, have extra land that could be spun off as affordable homes, or whether certain types of locations, such as surface parking lots, or low-density structures, can be redeveloped as a mixed-used property to both fulfill the original use and provide affordable homes. In slow-growth housing markets, communities may wish to consider how the adaptive reuse of historical or culturally-significant buildings for affordable housing can help to strengthen the community fabric while also providing affordable housing opportunities.

Solutions in Action
Due to the limited availability of land in New York City for housing development, the city has decided to think creatively about developing affordable housing on underutilized publicly-owned sites. For example, a Department of Transportation parking lot in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn will be converted to a covered parking lot in a building that also includes housing.

As part of its New Housing Marketplace plan, the city plans to actively consider the potential of all underutilized publicly-owned sites, such as low-rise structures in areas that permit mid-rise or high-rise buildings, to determine the feasibility of incorporating affordable homes on the premises.

In slow-growth housing markets, the adaptive reuse of outdated but culturally important structures can give new life to obsolete buildings while adding to the stock of affordable housing. Adaptive reuse can be more difficult and costly than developing housing on undeveloped land, but the added effort and expense may benefit the entire community by preserving a treasured old school, hospital, community center, or other local landmark. It also can provide a vehicle for overcoming NIMBY opposition to affordable housing since community members may be grateful to know that a local landmark will be restored to active use.

Solutions in Action
Georgia's Department of Community Affairs assists communities in assembling financing for the adaptive reuse of buildings that have become obsolete but have a sentimental and historic value to the community. Converting public buildings into affordable housing has happened frequently in the state -- often using former schools that community members will not allow to be demolished.

In the City of Rossville, the adaptive reuse of South Rossville Elementary School created 60 one- and two-bedroom apartments affordable to low- to moderate-income senior citizens. The development, South Rossville Senior Village, is home to many senior citizens who once attended or taught at the school and includes a community room and other recreational amenities.

In Atlanta, the Crogman School building, where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mother once taught, was saved from demolition and converted into a 105-unit affordable housing complex. In both of these cases, homes were created in the original school building and in one or more new buildings on the site.

Although adaptive reuse does not have to stop at publicly-owned buildings, these public assets offer an easily-accessible resource for governments seeking to both preserve local treasures and increase the affordable housing stock.

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