Land Bank History Unsurprisingly Repeats Itself
The Kansas City land bank was supposed to be better than the St. Louis version. Policymakers were supposed to have learned from some of the lessons of the failures in St. Louis. The Kansas City land bank was supposed to have created a more responsive and user-friendly process. It didn’t.
Despite some attempts to aggressively put public properties back into private hands (which is the ostensible goal of a land bank), recent investigations of the Kansas City land bank have found an entity chock full of conflicts of interest, property hoarding, and operational failures. This may not come as a surprise to our longtime readers—Institute analysts have done extensive research on the failures of the St. Louis land bank. The St. Louis land bank accumulated and held numerous properties, often rejecting attempts by people to purchase them.
The supposed purpose of a land bank is to rapidly get property back into the ownership of private individuals. The leaders of Kansas City’s land bank made promises for programs to achieve that. But investigations by Kansas City-area reporters seem to indicate that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
It is not in the interest of bureaucracy to actually solve the problem it is created to address. That puts the people who work there out of a job. The natural interest of bureaucracy is to expand its influence and power. You don’t do that by keeping your agency small and making it smaller by getting rid of the very thing you’re managing. This is an important insight from public choice economics.
So, to no one’s surprise, it seems the flaws that have permeated the St. Louis land bank have become embedded in the Kansas City land bank. Those flaws will almost certainly emerge in the St. Joseph land bank, which was unfortunately created a few years ago. Springfield city officials, who want a land bank, should keep these repeated failures in mind and reconsider whether a land bank is truly needed.