Paterson, N.J., Mayor Joey Torres (far left) joins, from left, state senators Paul Sarlo, Steve Sweeney and Nellie Pou to discuss initiatives to help blighted neighborhoods.

Paterson, N.J., Mayor Joey Torres and New Jersey State Senator Nellie Pou, D-Paterson, are proposing a municipal "land bank" program that would give financially challenged cities in the Garden State an ability to seize control of abandoned and foreclosed properties to spur economic development.

Pou's legislation would allow cities like Patterson to take control of properties that are either abandoned or in foreclosure and put them on the market, with proceeds then used for redevelopment.  The "land bank" legislation, which is scheduled to be taken up by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on June 8, comes in the midst of Paterson seeing a more than 500% foreclosure increase during the past three years, according to Pou.

"Abandoned properties are a significant problem for Paterson and other urban communities," said Pou. "They are magnets for illegal drug use and other criminal activities, they are an ongoing blight for communities and they cost cities with lost tax revenue. Land banking would give municipalities the ability to convert foreclosed and abandoned properties to productive use."

Pou met with Mayor Torres, Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-West Depford, and Senator Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge in Paterson on May 26 to discuss the land bank legislation and other initiatives that could help transform blighted neighborhoods in the state. Paterson, with $64 million of general obligation debt, is rated Baa2 by Moody's Investors Service and was among seven New Jersey municipalities placed on review for downgrade in March due to a heightened risk of state aid cuts.

"We want to identify ways to help Paterson and other cities improve economic conditions, enhance public safety, curb drug abuse and support redevelopment," Sweeney said. "We will work together to improve the quality of life for the residents and to expand economic opportunities."

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