May 25, 2009 [Kevin OBrien, The Plain Dealer]
If there is any good news about the foreclosure bomb wreaking havoc in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, it’s found in an idea that exhibits two qualities much too rarely associated with Greater Cleveland politics: leadership and vision.
The people who pushed that idea to fruition, most notably county Treasurer Jim Rokakis, as well as Cleveland Housing Judge Ray Pianka and Cleveland Councilman Tony Brancatelli, deserve great credit.
The nonprofit county land bank, officially the Land Reutilization Corp., is the most ambitious and aggressive weapon local leaders can use to push back against the foreclosure crisis and its profiteers.
Rokakis spent countless hours in Columbus, sweating and swearing and sweet-talking Ohio legislators to allow the creation of a regional land bank.
That he was successful is a testament to his tenacity. That his plan was prescient is evident in the swelling tide of proposals for vacant and abandoned properties since the county land bank opened its doors last month. They offer a potpourri of promise: greenhouses, community gardens, even a winery in hard-hit Hough.
By the end of the year, Rokakis expects the land bank to control 1,000 properties, most of them in Cleveland. That number could double or triple as the years pass, squeezing crooked flippers out of Cuyahoga County’s wounded housing market.
The design of the land bank is praiseworthy, too. Its rules call for regular audits and lots of sunshine — attributes too often lacking in local governments. It is a model of regionalism, with board members from Cleveland, the county and the suburbs. It must turn that regional character into action, coordinating its own work with projects — the Opportunity Corridor, for instance — that hold the promise of strong economic development.
Rokakis’ persistence and the power of his idea have given this county and its hardest-hit cities a chance to turn a mess into something positive. Now, it all comes down to the follow-through, and that has to be done just as well.