After the Crash, Banks Paid Billions. Where’d it All Go?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Newburgh, a run-down city on the Hudson River, has become a laboratory for a block-by-block method of rehabbing abandoned buildings. The tool the city is using is a land bank, a special-purpose government entity designed to deal with the consequences of blight, either by fixing or demolishing neglected structures.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has already directed more than $12 million in funding to land banks in Newburgh, Buffalo, Rochester, Long Island, and other parts of the state with a high density of neglected buildings. The money comes from a 2012 nationwide settlement with financial institutions over abuses in the foreclosure process.

Lawmakers are taking note: Last week, the state legislature in Albany voted to double the number of land banks. And some New York City Council members want to bring them to the five boroughs, as a tool to create affordable housing.

In Newburgh, the land bank is focusing is on a grid of streets reaching north of Broadway, the city’s main drag. It’s mainly one and two family brick buildings, mostly built before 1939.  A quarter of them are vacant. Madeleine Fletcher, the executive director of the Newburgh Community Land Bank, said almost all of these buildings can be repaired.

“What you find here actually is that you know masonry buildings were built to last a very very long time. So in spite of the neglect, you can save them,” Fletcher said.


Newburgh has hundreds of vacant buildings, some of which have been allowed to completely collapse.


The Dutch Reformed Church is a national historic landmark that made the World Monuments Fund's 2005 "100 Most Endangered Sites" list.

At 197 Lander Street, a private developer has purchased an apartment building from the land bank and is restoring it.

The land bank aims to make Lander Street an example of its restoration work.

Madeleine Fletcher, executive director of the Newburgh Community Land Bank

Despite peeling paint and asbestos-laced plaster, the land bank has targeted the former Brutus Hodge Funeral Home for restoration.


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Comments [5]

hannah brooks from Newburgh, NY

As one of the few citizens of Newburgh who sits on and regularly attends the Land Bank's resident committee (not the board), I can report firsthand that it is because of Madeline Fletcher that I feel confident we will be seeing a better city in five years; she leads with humility, integrity, and love for the greater good. Some of Mr Gabor's points are well taken, too, and worthy of consideration. He is one of many dedicated community activists (see the lightbulb project featured here) It is precisely because of the contributions of Madeline and Michael and Yaakov and others too numerous to mention, that I feel we are finally taking this forlorn city in the right direction, and I am happy to play a small role in it. We are running and stumbling and getting up again..and it is all good.

Jun. 23 2014 10:17 PM
Michael Gabor from Newburgh, NY

As a 25 year active resident of the City of Newburgh, I have seen many arms-length solutions come and go. Land Banks have their place. They can be successful when an encompassing regional plan is in place, when there are basic services in place- like effective or recharged codes compliance departments and when there are reasonable taxes with predictable rates 5 to 10 years out. They can be successful when they are grass roots movements with principals who are community-oriented residents. In these ways, because none of this fits the City of Newburgh's Land Bank, it's a recipe for failure. This fledgling group has already spent grant money on a block with little development- discarding its 100+-year-old slate sidewalks with short-term concrete, installing humped crosswalks in the middle of a block with no destination on either side, decimating the street of trees- failing to add openings in the new sidewalks for trees- and installing hazardous parking-space-eating bumpouts that will make snow plowing a joke. The Land Bank recommended the city raze three buildings- in three distinct areas of the city- toward which the city spent $300,000 of its CDBG grant money(awarded to a contractor who lived in the mayor's house)- for the Land Bank's purposes of raising money for itself without replenishing the CDBG funds. The City of Newburgh has plenty of office space available that is already existing. Why would a developing Land Bank spend critical money on an expensive building rehab instead of starting out in city-owned space that's ready to go? The salaried director does not live, nor have any connection to the City of Newburgh and the chair of the Land Bank is the Building Code/Fire Chief who's had little effect on the wildly incompetent building codes department since taking the position. But don't take my word for it, just agree to revisit the Newburgh Land Bank in 5 years.

Jun. 17 2014 10:38 PM
Jason from Manhattan

Newburgh is such a beautiful city. I think (someone correct me if I'm wrong) they recently paved the streets, but they used to have these aging red brick streets. Magical. And the homes - you drive around so excited such great architecture is just sitting there waiting for a little TLC. This article is very exciting -

Jun. 17 2014 09:26 PM
Yaakov Sullivan from Newburgh

There has been, over the years, a pattern of a step forward and then two backward here in Newburgh. For the first time, due to people like Madeleine and others, things are beginning to change. Newburgh has an outstanding example of historic homes, sturdy properties with wonderful views of the Hudson. For a long time here, the mentality had set in that nothing could change here, that this would be a blighted community where drugs and crime ran amok. Things are changing. People are finding Newburgh and moving up. We have a wonderful bank of properties for those who are committed to remaining in our community and helping it become an even more safe, secure and beautiful town on the Hudson.

Jun. 17 2014 02:38 PM
New Yorker from Newburgh

The problem is the local Empire State Development office who is supposed to do economic development, promote cities. Amy Vargas who heads this office is a complete disaster being a Cuomo pick and has no idea of the landscape of the Hudson Valley. Also the other issue on the bigger scale is how do you promote under deserved communities, distressed neighborhoods when your state agency, again, Empire State Development has a staff who have no idea how to get to Newburgh. Then you go the corrupt Newburgh town board where one recent employee ended up getting fired and going to work for the Bronx Econ Development who also is pretty corrupt. Then you got Larry Schwartz and his team who have no idea where Newburgh is.

Jun. 17 2014 10:20 AM

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