Cuyahoga County gets nearly $12 million from settlement to eliminate blight

Media Reports News

Cuyahoga County gets nearly $12 million from settlement to eliminate blight

May 6, 2012 [Leila Atassi,]

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County is poised to receive nearly $12 million from a nationwide settlement with mortgage lenders to demolish thousands of buildings left vacant and blighted in the aftermath of the foreclosure epidemic.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Friday that the county is eligible to receive what amounts to the largest portion of the $75 million his office set aside to help communities deal with an estimated 100,000 abandoned houses statewide.

The money was carved from Ohio’s $335 million share of a $25 billion settlement with five of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders. Each county’s portion was based on its percentage of foreclosure filings between 2008 and 2011 — the period identified by the settlement.

A reported 25,000 houses sit abandoned in Cuyahoga County, with the lion’s share in Cleveland.

City Councilman Tony Brancatelli, who also serves as chairman of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, said in an interview Friday that about 1,600 Cleveland properties have been condemned and are in queue to be razed. But the city’s last building vacancy survey revealed at least another 10,000 candidates for demolition. A team of inspectors assembled in anticipation of receiving the grant is on pace to inspect and condemn about 5,000 structures by year’s end, Brancatelli said.

The county has until June 30 to apply for its share. The funds will be awarded Aug. 1, and they must be spent by the end of 2013. After that, the money could be disbursed to other counties, according to the news release.

To receive the grant, each county must match, dollar-for-dollar, the amount it is awarded beyond the first $500,000.

The Land Bank, which will administer the grant on behalf of the county, will commit $5 million toward demolition, with the city pitching in another $4 million, Brancatelli said.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason said in an interview Friday that he also will pledge $5 million from delinquent property taxes, penalties and interest toward the cause, with a million dollars of that money reserved for razing blighted buildings in Cleveland.

A spokesman for DeWine said counties also must show that they have developed strategies for maximizing the benefit of demolition in their communities before they can receive the funds.

Gus Frangos, president and general counsel for the land bank, said that should not be a problem for his organization, which he said conducts the best research in the country when choosing properties to target.

“If you just take a bad property and there’s no strategy behind your choice, you’ve demolished a building but you’ve made no impact,” Frangos said. “We choose properties that will either stabilize an existing neighborhood that’s in jeopardy or remove the blight and create a larger assemblage of properties that makes sense.”