How to Acquire Public Property

Community developers often become aware of empty lots in their neighborhood that have sat idle for a decade or more. Over time, a community organization may imagine how the vacant property could serve the community and begin to develop plans for the vacant site.

To determine if the City owns a specific parcel and which agency controls it, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) maintains a list of City-owned and leased properties, including vacant property.

This DCAS database lists the agency that controls each parcel. The agency should be contacted to confirm its control over the site. Note that this step may require significant outreach and follow-up efforts with representatives at different agencies.

The next step involves becoming familiar with the city's land disposition process. Depending on the particular agency, the land disposition process may entail:

  • RFP process – An agency may release a public Request for Qualifications (RFQ), Request for Interest (RFI), or Request for Proposals (RFP) in connection with the development and/or sale of public land. The agency awards sites to the developer whose proposed project best aligns with an agency's priorities as stated in the RFP. This is the method most commonly used by the two main city land development agencies, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for properties large enough to support development.

Real estate RFPs issued by the NYCEDC

Requests for Proposals for development sites offered by HPD

  • Sole-Source Disposition – An agency can elect to convey public property to a specific entity, however this protocol is generally considered politically unfavorable and therefore is a relatively uncommon method of disposition.  Sole-source disposition, however, is possible where a developer owns a site adjacent to city land. If a non-profit developer proposes an affordable housing development on its and adjoining city land, the CBO should contact the borough director of HPD's Planning Division by calling 311 or 212-863-8811.
  • Real Estate Public Auction – DCAS, with 15,000 parcels of city-owned land in its portfolio, is the only agency that can dispose of City land through public auction. DCAS conducts auctions for the sale or lease of City which is awarded to the highest bidder. Most all sites that go to auction are generally smaller in size and not deemed developable by NYCEDC or HPD. View a schedule of DCAS Real Estate Public Auctions.

If a community group decides to alert development agency officials of the vacant City-owned property in its neighborhood and its plans for the property, it can contact:

  • For HPD, the Office of Neighborhood Strategies.
  • Contact the EDC, write Real Estate Development in the subject field.

These efforts may result in adding the vacant lot to an agency's list of development sites.

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Persistence. Identify a point person and follow-up often.

Outreach and follow-up is necessary to persuade an agency to dispose of city property. It may be advantageous to target more than one point person, including high- and mid-level staff, perhaps across several relevant agencies. Although commissioners have the highest decision-making power, these officials are not always easily accessible to a community developer. Mid-level staff members, however, are more accessible and have more detailed knowledge about specific properties and pending actions. Moreover, mid-level staff typically remain at agencies for extended time periods. Therefore, it is important to cultivate these relationships.

Ultimately, by communicating and advocating effectively with a land-holding agency, a CBO may successfully move an agency to issue an RFP to advance a strategic property. It is important to be diligent about following-up with key agency representatives and to utilize established relationships whenever possible.

Ultimately, whether the community developer wins the RFP and has the opportunity to develop the vacant lot in its neighborhood depends largely on how well its development proposal meets the requirements of the RFP and the capacity and experience of its development team.