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. A formal structure, such as an individual agency or interagency taskforce assigned to this task, 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. Another approach that can facilitate the identification of sites with development potential is for a single municipal agency to assume ownership of all public land under the jurisdiction of the municipality.

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 jurisdiction’s leadership as well as tangible incentives for the agencies may be needed to ensure an effective, interagency process, and especially to consolidate public holdings under a single office.

Case Studies

New Housing Marketplace (New York City)

As part of the city’s 10-year New Housing Marketplace Plan, created in 2003, the city assessed the potential of all underutilized, publicly owned sites to incorporate affordable homes on the premises. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development worked with a wide range of city and state agencies 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.

For More Info:

Lisa Talma, Office of Development, New York City Housing Preservation and Development
Email: [email protected]

Surplus City Property Ordinance (San Francisco)

In 2002, the City of San Francisco amended its Surplus City Property Ordinance to require the transfer of underutilized or surplus property to the Mayor’s Office of Housing for the development of affordable housing, particularly housing for the homeless. Examples of agencies subject to the policy include public works, public health, libraries and parks and recreation.

Properties that are suitable for housing development are to be sold or leased to a nonprofit for the development of affordable housing. Properties that are not suitable for housing development are sold in order to generate financing for affordable housing.

The ordinance has led to the creation of 150 affordable homes as of 2015, including 111 apartments for formerly homeless families and veterans. City staff is now leading the adoption of a broader Public Sites Development Framework to increase the supply of affordable homes on publicly owned land. Some of the ideas being considered include expanding efforts on enterprise agency and school property and allowing mixed-income housing on public land to improve the potential for cross-subsidizing affordable units with a market rate component.

One of the limitations of the San Francisco ordinance is that it places the responsibility for determining which properties are underutilized or surplus with each individual city department and does not audit departments or provide incentives for turning over property for use as affordable housing. Additionally, only two of the 15 sites donated to the Mayor’s Office of Housing to date have been suitable for housing development.

For More Info:

Teresa Yanga, San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development
Email: [email protected]