A common misconception about land banks is that they only work to demolish deteriorating properties. That’s not the case, says Mike Davis, Executive Director of the Central Illinois Land Bank Authority (CILBA).

While much of CILBA’s work involves redeveloping distressed properties, it also aims to prevent the creation of distressed properties in the first place, and it works with local governments to increase their capacity to drive positive investment. “I’m a big believer in having a proactive approach, and an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure,” says Davis.

Land banks are a newer concept in Illinois, but, nonetheless, have become an incredibly important asset in the revitalization of properties in the communities that they serve. CILBA, which began as a volunteer-led organization serving Vermilion County, currently serves 20 local government member organizations including Vermilion County, Champaign County, and Decatur.

Within the last 20 years, the land bank movement has become prevalent in Rust Belt states dealing with population and job losses. But what exactly do land banks do? Land banks are public entities with unique governmental powers that are solely focused on converting problem properties into productive use according to local community goals. Land banks help communities evaluate these properties. When the property is beyond repair, it may be demolished. Vacant, distressed properties can destabilize neighborhoods, create fire and safety hazards, drive down property values, and drain local tax dollars. If the property can be saved, land banks assist in revitalizing it.

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Mike Davis, Executive Director of CILBA

Davis continuously works to secure funding for CILBA’s members, while working with them to use the funding to create unique solutions to their respective problems. “There’s a need for new solutions and new tools at the table,” Davis says. When it comes to community revitalization, there isn’t a single, one-size-fits-all approach. Solutions must be targeted towards each community’s respective need. “What I’m really trying to do is make sure my communities have the right tools in place to actually take action,” Davis says.

When asked if there’s anything he’s looking forward to in CILBA’s future, Davis emphasizes his desire to continue coalition building and partnering with more hospitals, banks, and anchor employers on community development issues. He notes that to catalyze change, advance community development, and fight poverty, organizations from all sectors need to put their collective funds and minds together to address community needs, especially as it concerns improving housing and overall quality of life. “We all need to come to the table and figure out what pooling resources towards a common goal looks like.”