New tools to fight blight 

Legislation would allow city to form a “land bank” to redevelop abandoned property.



In a single block of South Johnson Street, four houses sit abandoned and boarded up, roofs and porches falling in, yards overgrown, property taxes long unpaid.

It’s a prime example of the contagion of urban blight: One abandoned house, left vacant for too long, inevitably leads to a second, and then a third, and so on.

Under current law, it’s almost impossible to stop the blight before it has the chance to spread. Abandoned houses can sit untouched almost indefinitely: It takes a minimum of five years for a tax-delinquent property to work its way through the state foreclosure process into the hands of a new owner — Arkansas’s process is one of the longest in the country — and another two years before the new owner can make any improvements. If the tax-delinquent owner pays the back taxes in the fifth year, before the property is auctioned, he can start the cycle over again.

But a package of four bills working its way through the state legislature would give Little Rock and other larger Arkansas cities a host of new tools for dealing with abandoned properties. The Senate approved three of the bills last week; the fourth ran into opposition from the banking lobby, and supporters are trying to work out a compromise.

“It’s going to give us an opportunity to compile the properties that are now vacant and abandoned — the weed lots and houses that are all boarded up — and give us a way to give these properties to new developers to rebuild and put new housing on them,” said City Director Joan Adcock.

There are more than 600 tax-delinquent properties in the Little Rock city limits, said Andre Bernard, director of housing and neighborhood programs for the city. There are another 7,000 or so weed lots — empty, abandoned land that the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to maintain, almost always without recouping the cost from the property owner.

After two years of unpaid taxes, properties are turned over to the state land commissioner’s office. The land commissioner holds them for another two years, and then places them on a list of properties to be sold at auction. That process itself can drag out even longer: if a property doesn’t sell at auction, the land commissioner eventually can negotiate with a buyer to sell for a reduced amount.

But even after a new buyer acquires a property, the former owner has two years to challenge the sale. During that time, the new owner most likely won’t make any improvements, because he wouldn’t get his investment back if the former owner won the challenge. So abandoned properties can sit up to seven years before a new owner is free to make anything better.

The bills are the product of more than two years of work by a group of civic officials and activists, including Adcock and Myra Jones, a former city director and state legislator who currently works for the Little Rock Realtors Association.

One of the bills, SB 376, would give the state’s larger cities the authority to establish land banks. These would act as transitional owners of abandoned and delinquent property — acquiring them from the land commissioner, and then selling them to new owners who’d agree to make specific improvements within two years. The goal is to reverse blight, create a real estate market in urban areas and get abandoned properties back on tax rolls.

“In other cities and states where we went looking at this, we saw whole neighborhoods changed,” Adcock said. “We think it’s going to change the core of the city.”

The land bank’s board would have the ability to decide whether a would-be new owner’s plans fit the neighborhood’s needs, Adcock said.

“The property may be next door to your house,” she said. “You may come to the land bank and say ‘I want to make this property more yard for my house.’ The land bank can decide that’s a good use — to expand some yards in the inner city.”

Another bill, SB 373, would allow the land commissioner to auction off a delinquent property after one year instead of two, and would shorten from two years to one the period of time during which a former property owner could contest the sale.

The third bill approved by the Senate, SB 377, would make it easier for purchasers of tax-delinquent property to get title insurance.

The one bill that ran into opposition, SB 372, would allow cities to foreclose on abandoned properties if owners failed to repay the city for maintenance costs. Cities already have the power to place a lien on the property, but the bill would elevate them to first-priority liens and give the city the power to foreclose if they’re left unpaid — meaning the city would have first dibs on the property, ahead of a mortgage holder.

“This is a way we can recapture those taxpayer dollars,” Bernard said.

The state’s mortgage industry, not surprisingly, doesn’t like this bill. But supporters say that practically speaking, it won’t affect them much.

“We think their issues aren’t valid,” Jones said. “Most of these properties don’t have a mortgage on them anymore. They’re too old.”


Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Jennifer Barnett Reed

  • Learning to love North Little Rock in Park Hill

    Any description of North Little Rock's Park Hill neighborhood will eventually, inevitably, include a comparison to Hillcrest, its better-known cousin south of the river.
    • Dec 28, 2011
  • A reason to splash

    Fun rain gear and more at InJoy.
    • Mar 12, 2009
  • Pick up some spice

    And we ain’t talking about tarragon.
    • Feb 26, 2009
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Kanis development decried

    Fletcher Hollow wrong place for density, neighbors tell LR planners.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • Eligible voters removed from rolls

    Arkansas Times reporters contacted election officials around the state to see how they had handled flawed felon data from the secretary of state. Responses varied dramatically.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • Real Republicans don't do pre-K

    Also, drifting away from trump, Hudson's downfall at ASU and more.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Architecture lecture: Sheila Kennedy on "soft" design

    Sheila Kennedy, a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd., will give the June Freeman lecture tonight at the Arkansas Arts Center, part of the Architecture + Design Network series at the Arkansas Arts Center.
  • Petition calls for Jason Rapert Sewage Tanks in Conway

    A tribute is proposed for Conway's state senator Jason Rapert: naming the city's sewage sludge tanks for him. Petitioners see a similarity.
  • Health agency socked with big verdict, Sen. Hutchinson faulted for legal work

    A former mental health agency director has won a default judgment worth $358,000 over a claim for unpaid retirement pay and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is apparently to blame for failure to respond to pleadings in the case.
  • Religious right group calls for compromise on damage lawsuit amendment

    The Family Council, the religious right political lobby, has issued a statement urging its followers to oppose the so-called tort reform amendment to limit attorney fees and awards in damage lawsuits.
  • Constituents go Cotton pickin' at Springdale town hall

    Sen. Tom Cotton, cordial to a fault, appeared before a capacity crowd at the 2,200 seat Pat Walker Performing Arts Center at Springdale High tonight to a mixed chorus of clapping and boos. Other than polite applause when he introduced his mom and dad and a still moment as he led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — his night didn't get much better from there.

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

Visit Arkansas

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments


© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation