Cuyahoga County land bank transforming neigborhoods hit by foreclosure

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Cuyahoga County land bank transforming neigborhoods hit by foreclosure

October 28, 2010 [WEWS]

CLEVELAND – The Cuyahoga County Land Bank is the first of its kind in the country. It’s funded by the $6 to $7 million that’s collected every year by the county in penalties and fees from delinquent property tax bills.

The county believes that money can fix the foreclosure problem.

“I would classify this land bank as being a land bank on steroids,” Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp. President Gus Frangos explained.

The bank is bulging at the seams with properties. It acquires 100 a month from banks, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD.

Before, the homes would have gone to out of state investors.

Now local investments turn an eyesore into an eye catching home.

“Everything is new in the bathroom.  We totally gutted it back to the studs,” Construction Manager Bernard Moore said.

Almost every room in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood home was gutted and updated.

“Basically we try to change the effective age of the house with the extensiveness of the renovation,” Moore explained.

Profit is not the goal of the rehab projects

It’s a renovation that didn’t net the land bank any money. They bought the Old Brooklyn home for $1 and the rehab work cost a few thousand dollars more than the final sale price.

This project is not about making money on individual homes, but keeping the cash flowing in our communities.

“When you talk about the taxpayers, and that’s our goal, they saved $10,000 in demolition they saved over 5 years probably $15,000 in the tax base now that they can collect. They supported roughly $2 million of roughly comparable real estate value by saving this property. It’s that. It’s the more strategic issues that this land bank effects,” Frangos said.

The land bank will focus its efforts in neighborhoods with an established tax base. The goal is to save an entire neighborhood rather than rebuild a dilapidated one.

“If you are going to do something in a neighborhood that makes no impact whatsoever you have to question whether you want to go in and spend resources on that,” Frangos said. “We’re hitting nice areas and if we go and do a dilapidated area it’s not that we won’t, but we have to think about why we are doing that. Is it because we have a grand scheme to completely change the whole character of it or are we just going in to deal with one property and there is no imapct? We have to really evaluate that.”

Land bank gives school green space

This program is not all about homes.

It’s also about creating new partnerships.

The towering brick structure of Metro Catholic School stands out in Ohio City, but it’s what’s happening on the ground that’s changing the landscape.

Students and their families tend to an urban garden. They’ve learned it takes more than a green thumb for the vegetables to thrive.

“We learned that to have a great outcome you have to work together and it has to be a team effort,” Metro Catholic Eighth Grader Danyalis Cruz explained.

That team approach is spreading beyond the garden, and into a vacant lot where a foreclosed home once stood.

“It was really dull and damp,” Cruz said.

It sat just feet from the school’s playground, and across the street from Cynthia Harrell.

“The property values went down before they tore the house down,” Harrell said.

The school and the Diocese paid for the demolition. In return, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank gave the property to the school for free.

“Seldom do city schools have the opportunity to expand their space and their property so we jumped at the opportunity,” Sister Carol Brandt said.

It’s an opportunity made possible through the year old land bank.

“It’s kind of recycling where you make something that is used into a beautiful wonderful thing,” Cruz said.

The partnership between the land bank and school will transform an eyesore into an eye opening learning experience for students.

The school expects to invest $25,000 into the green space and fill it with an amphitheater and native plants.

The land bank hopes to continue these partnerships and eventually get beyond demolition and rehab work. The land bank has demolished 72 homes already and has 104 others under contract for demolition.

“We want to begin creating jobs and supporting economic development projects as well,” Frangos explained.