publicly-owned land: overview » introduction » reduce barriers for disposition
Standard procedures for selling or leasing publicly-owned land can involve lengthy delays and inflexible requirements for sale to the highest bidder without regard to the planned land use. While the public has an interest in getting the maximum value for publicly-owned assets, standard procedures for the disposition of publicly-owned land can hinder another important public interest -- ensuring an adequate supply of affordable housing. Enacting special procedures for transferring property for affordable housing -- for example, creating expedited timelines and authorizing below-market sales -- can allow more publicly-owned parcels to be used to produce affordable homes.

Click on the links below to learn more about reducing barriers to the disposition of publicly-owned land for affordable homes:
Elm Brook Homes
Photo courtesy of ULI Development Case Studies
Allow disposition at below-market prices
Transferring public land at below-market prices facilitates site acquisition by developers of affordable homes without requiring a direct outlay of government funds.

Establish clear, quick disposition procedures
By streamlining the disposition process, governments can facilitate the use of publicly-owned land for affordable homes.

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Reduce 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.

Other pages in this section:

Chatham SqaureIdentify 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.

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.

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

Allow disposition at below-market prices

Rules that require governments to sell publicly-owned property to the highest bidder may need to be altered to acknowledge some legitimate public purposes for below-market sales. Although communities benefit from the revenue generated through the sale of publicly-owned land, they also benefit from increasing the availability of affordable homes.

In many communities, disposition rules require sales to generate the maximum revenue, without regard for other priorities. By allowing disposition of publicly-owned property for affordable housing at no cost or at below-market prices, governments can help make housing more affordable to working families.

For example, San Francisco's Surplus City Property Ordinance waives the city's standard requirement that properties must be sold for no less than 100 percent of fair market value. When properties will be transferred for the development of affordable housing or the provision of on-site homeless services, the ordinance allows the transfer to take place for below-market value or at no cost.

To ensure that the public purposes are upheld, covenants prohibit resale of these properties at a profit. Click here to leave this site and see the full ordinance.

Disposing of properties while protecting their long-term affordability

Although disposition at below-market prices is an important means of facilitating the development of affordable homes, it is also important for communities to take a long-term view of their housing needs and consider how to maintain the affordability of homes built on publicly-owned land. Deed restrictions, as are used in the Elm Brook Homes, and re-sale covenants, as are used in San Francisco, are among the many tools communities can use to ensure long-term affordability.

Learn more about ensuring long-term affordability of affordable homes.
Solutions in Action
Elm Brook Homes provide 12 affordable, deed-restricted homes in historic Concord, Massachusetts. The town of Concord transferred the land for these homes to the Concord Housing Trust for $1.

In Massachusetts, the Chapter 30B procurement process allows local governments to sell or lease publicly-owned property at below-market value if they disclose the market value and the transfer achieves a valid public purpose. Many towns, including Concord, have used Chapter 30B to sell, or transfer via a 99-year lease, surplus properties for as little as $1 for the development of affordable homes.

Key resources on Chapter 30B can be found here.

Visit the Gallery to learn more about Elm Brook Homes.

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Establish clear, quick disposition procedures

Although planning and procurement procedures often bring in beneficial oversight and accountability, they also can impose significant delays and other regulatory barriers to using publicly-owned land for affordable homes. To facilitate the development of affordable homes, some communities have established expedited procedures for the disposition of publicly-owned land.

From 2003 to 2005, Massachusetts used an expedited process called Outside Section 548 to facilitate the reuse of public land. Outside Section 548 allowed properties to be sold or transferred by the Department of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) instead of requiring separate pieces of legislation to approve the redevelopment of each state-owned site. DCAM was required to consider community plans and confer with state agencies before transferring any land. For parcels larger than two acres, a public hearing was also required.

Although some opportunities for community feedback were still in place, the elimination of individual legislation for each sale substantially reduced the barriers to transferring surplus publicly-owned property. The perception of Outside Section 548, however, was that it eliminated local control and community input regarding land uses. It was therefore allowed to sunset.

Massachusetts' experience highlights the importance of preserving opportunities for community input even while the disposition process is expedited.

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