Putting Assets to Work

Local governments are sitting on a virtual gold mine without realizing it. Just as private individuals and corporations use assets (like machines or buildings) to generate income, governments can do the same with their assets.

Apply to Join GFOA Putting Assets to Work Initiative: Two Ways To Get Involved

First, GFOA is seeking applications to select five jurisdictions to join the Putting Assets to Work initiative. This limited opportunity will provide jurisdictions with expert public asset advisors to work alongside innovative government leaders to support their efforts to launch a Putting Assets to Work initiative in their jurisdiction. This is not our first cohort of jurisdictions to participate in the program. You can read more about the benefits of joining further on this webpage, and you can check out this paper about some of the benefits that the City of Atlanta realized through its participation.

Jurisdictions seeking to join the 2023 Putting Assets to Work cohort should click here for the application instructions. We describe the full benefits of joining the initiative below.

The second way to get involved is to join as an observer. Though this is no substitute for joining the cohort, it will help prepare you to join a future cohort. 

The Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), with support from Urban3 and the Common Ground Institute (CGI), is seeking applications to select up to five government entities seeking to unlock opportunities and revenue from publicly-owned real estate assets. 

The Putting Assets to Work Initiative will build on GFOA’s successful Putting Assets to Work Policy Incubator that brought together six jurisdictions to explore best practices, policy tools, and approaches to unlock new revenues and other public benefits from unused or underutilized government land. 

This concept, sometimes referred to as urban wealth funds or other similar terms, has been successfully used around the globe in places like Australia, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Sweden and has significant potential to benefit communities in the U.S.

Already, Putting Assets to Work leaders have identified underutilized government-owned real estate valued at billions of dollars working with jurisdictions that include Atlanta, Georgia; Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Maryland; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Cleveland, Ohio; Harris County, Texas; Lancaster, California; and Salt Lake County, Utah. These jurisdictions are already beginning to realize new revenues and other community benefits, including affordable housing, clean energy, infrastructure, criminal justice innovations, and other high priorities.

At a high level, the concept is straightforward:

-The government identifies a budgetary goal or community benefit, including infrastructure investment, social or environmental benefit, or other needs it wants to fund with additional revenue.

-In partnership with experts specializing in this work, the government inventories all publicly owned assets in a jurisdiction. Typically, the value of publicly owned assets far exceeds estimates, which are usually developed using the historical cost of purchase, not current market value.

-The government identifies one or more of those assets that are underutilized to be developed to their highest and best use within parameters set by policymakers.

-The government uses internal or external expertise to improve, manage and maintain the asset.

-The additional value/revenue that is created is transferred to the public in the form of concrete benefits, identified in the first step.

-Government and outside entities provide oversight throughout the process.

Former Mayor and former Congressman Ben McAdams, now a GFOA Fellow leading the Putting Assets to Work initiative, pioneered the early stages of this work in Salt Lake County by conducting an inventory of its public real estate assets. The county discovered a gold mine: approximately $10 billion in underutilized public real estate.

“If we are able to improve the public return on our assets even slightly, we can start to address some of the major challenges facing our region, like increasing the availability of affordable workforce housing and making investments in our transportation infrastructure, and we can do it without raising taxes,” McAdams remarks.

Salt Lake County is beginning to unlock new revenue by putting its assets to work acting on this enormous discovery.

By participating in this initiative, each jurisdiction will receive a significant return: a world-class asset map that catalogs public real estate assets in the jurisdiction for possible revenue generation, along with technical assistance and policy support to equip the participant in launching an initiative to (1) maximize the use of public real estate assets to generate public revenues for community investment, (2) deeply understand the feasibility of Putting Assets to Work specifically in their own jurisdiction, and (3) receive a proposed governance structure, roadmap and tools for implementation.

The initiative consists of two concurrent endeavors lasting approximately 6 months.

Asset inventory and mapping: This endeavor will yield a public real estate asset map and valuation. These products represent a visual inventory of all publicly owned real estate assets in a jurisdiction and an analysis of their current-date valuation, highlighting along the way meaningful opportunities for development. Each map produced during this phase will:

-Require input from local government officials and staff (e.g., timely access to public records held by the county assessor office, participation from department directors and staff to give context to public real estate assets and opportunities, and occasional phone consultation from city attorneys).

-Provide a holistic understanding of all publicly owned land in the jurisdiction.

-Project the potential value of all land, viewed as a real estate portfolio.

-Visualize development scenarios for priority sites based on comparable existing development.

-Identify the net municipal revenue impact of potential development.

-Result in a highly visualized presentation to elected officials and staff of opportunities for the development of public assets, including their valuation. 

Feasibility assessment and implementation playbook: This endeavor will engage elected officials, senior policymakers, and staff to identify budgetary goals and other public benefit opportunities the jurisdiction is seeking and how a Putting Assets to Work initiative can support the jurisdiction’s objectives. Following this feasibility assessment, the Putting Assets to Work team will engage with elected officials and senior staff to develop an implementation playbook. This playbook will:

-Evaluate the governance and financial structure and develop recommendations for initiating this work in a way that aligns with jurisdiction-specific considerations and desires. 

-Evaluate procurement considerations respective to the jurisdiction.

-Develop recommendations for a private partnership engagement structure that maximizes benefits for the public, including but not limited to ethical considerations that guide short and long-term public-private engagements to protect the public trust and maximize the public benefit.

With these resources provided, participating local governments will be equipped to join other leading jurisdictions across the U.S. that are working to unlock the value of their public real estate assets using this groundbreaking approach. Already, jurisdictions who have worked with this Putting Assets to Work team are moving forward with projects that will generate significant revenue streams to fund identified priorities, including infrastructure investment, positive social or environmental benefits, or other needs – without raising taxes.

GFOA seeks applications and intends to select five jurisdictions interested in joining the Putting Assets to Work initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to work alongside innovative government leaders to support their efforts to launch a Putting Assets to Work initiative in their jurisdiction. 

Jurisdictions seeking to join the 2023 Putting Assets to Work cohort should submit an application containing the information below under Application Instructions. GFOA intends to select five jurisdictions to join the cohort on a discretionary basis.  

Jurisdictions participating in the 2023 cohort will be expected to contribute the amount below to support the asset mapping and policy development work specific to the jurisdiction. Funding may be sourced from public, nonprofit, and/or for-profit sources. 

-$125,000 for jurisdictions with a population between 25,000-75,000

-$135,000 for jurisdictions with a population between 75,000-250,000

-$165,000 for jurisdictions with a population between 250,000-750,000

-$190,000 for jurisdictions with a population greater than 750,000 

For jurisdictions with a population of less than 50,000 and with a small number of public assets:

-$42,500 (this amount does not include creating a comprehensive asset map but does include policy development and advisory work, and conceptual modeling for one of the jurisdiction’s key assets)

Jurisdictions who want to follow this work and learn more about GFOA’s Putting Assets to Work initiative but are not ready to apply to join as a participant may request to be included in a cohort as an observer where they are invited to attend periodic virtual work sessions. In these work sessions, participant jurisdictions will present the successes and challenges of their work, hear from industry experts, and workshop on overcoming obstacles and other solutions among the various participating jurisdictions. The cost of participating as an observer is $500 per jurisdiction or individual.