May 22, 2014 [Amy Popik, The News Herald]
As a way to give back to the community and local veterans, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has created a unique program that helps veterans achieve home ownership.
The HomeFront Veterans Home Ownership Program works with veterans to find renovated homes or homes that can be renovated.
The Cuyahoga Land Bank is a nonprofit organization that acquires foreclosed properties and returns them to productive use, which improves quality of life and increases property value, according to the organization’s website.
“There is a great need to help our veterans,” said Gus Frangos, president and general council of the Cuyahoga Land Bank. “Our objective is to get homes into productive peoples’ hands … and veterans are so worthy.”
The program began on Veterans Day in 2013, and since its inception, the land bank has helped seven veterans find homes.
On May 23, the land bank will host an event to celebrate Memorial Day in Euclid with U.S. Army Spc. Holden Gibbons, an Afghanistan War veteran who is renovating a home through the land bank’s HomeFront program.
“I’m a first time homebuyer … (and) I settled on the land bank because I am going back to school on the GI Bill and I didn’t want to pay rent,” Gibbons said. “I am excited to own a piece of property and do my part. I have seen other military flags on the street, so I am excited to meet my neighbors and hear their stories.”
He said he picked Euclid because of its proximity to University Circle and downtown Cleveland.
Gibbons has chosen a home on East 221st Street in Euclid, and Frangos said this program can help not only the veteran, but also the community.
“It really helps to integrated the veteran into the community because he or she is being welcomed and honored,” he said. “This also helps to give back to the community because it is fixing up a home … which keeps property values up.”
The land bank changes inventory every month, with homes across Cuyahoga County, typically in the inner-ring suburbs.
“(Gibbons) picked a home from our inventory and we worked to create a spec,” Frangos said. “We will help him finance the home, with reasonable payments, which is what our vets need. He will build equity, pay off his home in four to five years and get something in return for serving his country. We don’t want our vets in debt for 30 years.”
He added that the payments on the home will not be over 30 percent of the veteran’s income, and the program also offers renovated or to-be-renovated homes at 20 percent off the purchase price with a lease-to-own option available as well.
The program is made possible through a $100,000 grant from the Cuyahoga County Council’s Veterans Services Fund last year, and a $100,000 matching grant from the Cuyahoga Land Bank, HomeFront — Cuyahoga County Program.
“We decided to develop this program as a revolving loan, which could end up taking a couple hundred thousand and turn that into $1 million in home ownership,” Frangos said. “It started as an offshoot of our Deed-In-Escrow Program, where investors or owners agree to rehab the home and once the work was done, we would deed the property to them.”
The event is hoping to create awareness with veterans organizations and other local veterans about this program, as well as let them know the options they have.
“This isn’t a giveaway and we noticed that vets don’t want to giveaways, they want to be involved in the (homebuying process), but they need access and help getting there and we want to help fill that gap,” Frangos said.
Gibbons, who served in the Army for about 3 1/2 years, said his home should be completely renovated and move-in ready in two weeks. The home was gutted and completely redone except for the roof, he said.
“I would recommend this program for all vets,” he said. “Even for those who aren’t vets, I would recommend the land bank because they are extremely flexible and want to help the community.”