An innovative program in Flint, Michigan--the Genesee County Land Bank--is helping to salvage vacant and abandoned properties and transfer them to new owners for redevelopment.

The idea of land banks isn't new, but most simply acquire properties and resell them to private developers. The Genesee County program differs in that officials have greater control over the future of abandoned properties. Since the Land Bank doesn't depend on outside appropriations, the group is able to focus almost exclusively on rehabilitating the foreclosed properties it receives.

"We end up financing a lot of cleanup and rehabilitation with money that in other land banks would be funneled to the private sector," says Dan Kildee, Genesee County treasurer and chairman of the land bank. "Those private systems generally deliver property to its lowest possible use."

Since it was launched in 2002, the program has acquired more than 4,400 commercial and industrial properties. Originally called the Land Reutilization Council, the organization changed to a land bank in 2004 after Michigan passed a land banking law. In partnership with the county treasurer's office, the land bank assumes ownership of all property in the county lost to foreclosure. It then manages decisions regarding demolition, renovation and resale. The organization also has the power to help struggling families postpone foreclosure.

Because land banks focus more on selling individual properties, developers and land speculators are less than enthusiastic about the system. They see it as an impediment to their ability to buy land cheaply for large developments. Still, the Genesee County program has worked well enough to become a model for other cities and counties trying to redevelop decayed areas.