A vacant lot in Wichita
The city’s land bank is meant to acquire distressed properties in Wichita, like vacant lots, and rehabilitate them. (Alex Unruh/The Beacon)

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In May 2021, the Wichita City Council created the city’s first-ever land bank — a city-owned and operated entity aimed at reducing blight and vacant properties.  

The land bank aims to acquire distressed properties or vacant lots and rehabilitate them. Its main priorities? Neighborhood revitalization and affordable housing, which are key as home and rental prices in Wichita increase

But in the year since the City Council approved the land bank, which is overseen by a seven-member board of trustees, it hasn’t bought or received any properties. 

“We are making progress but at this time there is little to report,” Gary Schmitt, the chair of the board, wrote in an email to The Wichita Beacon. 

The board is still narrowing down where in the city it will focus its efforts and determining how the program can fit into the city’s affordable housing fund

Council appoints board of trustees

After the City Council formed the land bank last May, it took about four months before the mayor and six council members appointed representatives to the board of trustees. 

Appointees should have expertise in development, construction or real estate, according to the city ordinance. Their terms last until March 2023.

Schmitt is the m​anaging director for government affairs at Intrust Bank. Marvin Schellenberg, the vice chair of the board, is president of Schellenberg Development Co., a real-estate development firm.

After the council appointed all representatives, the board met for the first time last November.

  • Land Bank board of trustees
    • Valencia K. Monk-Morgan, District 1
    • Wesley Galyon, District 2
    • Gary Schmitt, District 3
    • Jerrome Castillo, District 4
    • Marvin Schellenberg, District 5
    • Alex Ibarra, District 6
    • Siobhan Collier, Mayoral appointee

What Wichita’s land bank has accomplished so far

The city’s land bank is a pilot project paid for with about $377,000 of federal funds, said Sally Stang, director of Wichita’s Housing and Community Services Department. 

The city can use that money to acquire properties on the open market or at county tax foreclosure auctions. People can also donate properties to the land bank. 

The land bank can wipe back taxes and special assessment costs from the property, sort through ownership and title issues and clean up debris. Then, the land bank can sell the property to a private owner.  

If you have a property that you’re interested in donating to the land bank, email WichitaLandBank@wichita.gov.

In the months since the land bank started meeting, the city hasn’t acquired any properties. This is, in part, because Sedgwick County has yet to hold a tax auction, Stang said. But the land bank committee also needs to decide where it wants to focus property acquisition efforts.

“We don’t have enough capacity to do the in-depth evaluation of the whole established central area,” Stang said. Wichita’s downtown core and its surrounding neighborhoods make up the established central area.

Wichita’s established central area is pictured above. It consists of Wichita’s downtown core and neighborhoods surrounding it in a roughly three-mile radius. (Courtesy of Wichita’s Places for People plan)

The land bank narrowed its focus to City Council District 1 in northeast Wichita. But the board hopes to concentrate on an even smaller area. The city provided the board with seven potential quarter-mile focus areas in northeast Wichita to choose from. These have a density of tax foreclosure properties and/or the city’s public housing units.

But the board has yet to decide on any of these areas. 

“I’m personally not ready to say that any one of these are better than any of the rest,” Schmitt said at the May 11 land bank meeting. “I think these are all areas that we need to monitor. We need to monitor for foreclosures. And we need to also monitor to see what the city housing department does.”

Land bank seeks to tie into other city, nonprofit efforts

Land Bank board members and city staff are hoping to weave the land bank’s efforts into the city’s new affordable housing fund, which is investing in renovating and selling the city’s public housing

The fund is choosing target areas throughout the city. So far, it’s narrowed in on 25th and Minnesota streets in the city’s northeast and another at Haskell and St. Clair streets in the southwest, both of which have clusters of single-family public housing units. 

“If the land bank can come alongside that and acquire either vacant or dilapidated parcels that can then be turned around, it adds to that whole idea of trying to make improvements to the neighborhood,” Stang said. 

Many public housing units are in northeast Wichita, where the land bank will likely center its efforts. 

Another opportunity that the land bank may potentially build off of is Habitat for Humanity’s Rock the Block campaign. The nonprofit built dozens of new owner-occupied houses in the A. Price Woodard neighborhood just northeast of Ninth and Grove streets.

“It makes sense to me in a way to take advantage of the momentum of Rock the Block,” board member Valencia Kaye Monk-Morgan said at the May 11 Land Bank committee meeting. “But I might suggest that we do that by selecting a neighborhood that’s adjacent, to demonstrate that not only is there a focus happening in this area, but the intention is to continue to move throughout the area.”

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Hack covers local government for The Wichita Beacon. She is a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @CeliaHack.