Q&A: Emily Doerr Executive Director, Michigan State Land Bank Authority

BY Sunday, November 08, 2020 11:03am

Emily Doerr was hired last month as the new executive director of the Michigan State Land Bank Authority. In her new role, the Flint resident will lead the strategic direction of the State Land Bank, which serves 37 counties in Michigan and owns 2,676 land parcels. 

The state agency is a repository for properties that go back into public ownership and include residential parcels, sites that could support economic development and land conservation. Doerr was previously the vice president of housing development for Metro Community Development, the city of Flint’s community and economic development program manager, real estate manager for Consumers Energy, and the business attraction manager for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. She spoke with MiBiz about her vision for the State Land Bank.

Emily Doerr Executive Director, Michigan State Land Bank Authority COURTESY PHOTO

What are some of your specific goals in your new role?

We’re transitioning to having a bigger focus on land banking, and being more proactive with developers and saying, ‘OK, you have a number of sites you’re trying to get for your development.’ We can hold those sites for them and minimize their risk while they’re getting local approvals. 

A specific goal we’re looking at is there is a need for more affordable and workforce housing. We really want to continue collaborating, especially with other state agencies like the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Michigan Economic Development Corp., to bring more workforce housing to communities. That is a priority and need for communities all over the state. There are funding tools such as brownfield TIFs that can be utilized when parcels are under our ownership. 

What role does land conservation play in your work?

We are definitely interested in conservation as an excellent way to recycle land. If there are parcels we own adjacent to existing trails, parks or wildlife conservatories, we’re interested in cleaning the property up and turning it over to conservation and recreational uses. 

How do you anticipate the pandemic affecting the State Land Bank’s work?

COVID-19 has obviously had so many negative effects for so many people. It’s a longer process for us. If there are properties that people stop paying taxes on because of the pandemic — if they lost their job or for whatever reason — it is a three-year cycle until the land comes under our authority. We don’t want people losing their properties because of the pandemic. 

As an organization, we have figured out how to do work remotely and respond to applications in a specific way. This is work that requires official signatures, getting deeds stamped, all that stuff that is not really always digital and you need hard copies. That took a bit more time at first and they had to transition, but now our team has figured out how to work remotely.

Kent County dissolved its land bank in 2018, prompting an agreement with the State Land Bank. What has been the transition process for land bank operations in Kent County?

The Kent County land bank being dissolved and the parcels coming back to the state is a first in the state of Michigan. Any of the other land banks that were started at a county level are still in operation. With those parcels back in our ownership, we’ll evaluate the proposals that come in and try to make sure we are meeting the community’s desires for what is happening with the land. 

There are so many people interested in buying property in Kent County — there are people all over that want to buy those parcels. It’s really a testament to how much value there is in the land in the county and that’s great to see. 

Why were you interested in pursuing this position?

It’s very cool to be part of such a great team with so many people and initiatives even though we are all working from home currently. The land bank is a very powerful redevelopment tool. There are special tools we have that are really reserved for parcels that are under land bank ownership. Developing projects and workforce housing is not getting any easier, and at the land bank we really try to be problem solvers. 

Seeing how all of these moving parts work together, it’s definitely not easy work but it’s really interesting and important work. It’s work that helps to get property values to rise, which is always a good thing. 

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