September 16, 2013 [Robert Nozar, cleveland.com]
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Not every Cuyahoga Land Bank property demolition is as notorious as was the one on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland, formerly occupied by Ariel Castro and his three hostages.
But Land Bank officials said every one of the now 2,000 properties that have succumbed to the wrecker’s ball at the behest of the Land Bank, are important to neighboring property owners and all who have a vested interest in the affected neighborhood. Such was the case with the Castro property, the demolition of which was cheered by neighbors and others.
That milestone coincides with another Land Bank milestone reached this week, the 700th distressed home that has been renovated. Those homes were acquired by the Land Bank from tax foreclosure, HUD and Fannie Mae and then renovated by private owners, using private dollars.
“Blighted properties can be a very serious safety problem in neighborhoods,” said Cheryl Stephens, director of acquisition, disposition and development. “This is why we take our job seriously and make sure our work is performed professionally.”
Many of the properties acquired by the Cuyahoga Land Bank are blighted and beyond repair, Stephens said. She added that they constitute a haven for criminal activity and pose safety hazards. In these instances, and after careful review of all the systems in the house, the house is scheduled for demolition.
Once reaching that point, the Land Bank removes property in order to speed the recovery and “re-imagining” of the surrounding area, Stephens said.
Dennis Roberts, the Land Bank programs director, said the demolition of a property beyond repair can be the first step to stop the bleeding of a neighborhood and results in reversing the decay of an entire area.
“Creating green space and other creative uses of properties that were occupied by homes the Land Bank demolished (are the goal),” Roberts said. “We will continue to develop innovative programs and strategies that return properties to productive use while also quickly removing blighted properties in Cuyahoga County.”
Stephens said the Land Bank has made it a regular process to work with the jurisdictions of municipalities to help identify blighted properties where the Land Bank can be of service. She said lenders, along with Fannie Mae, contribute to the cost of demolitions and some funds come from the State of Ohio.
The Ariel Castro property was knocked down in less than 24 hours and within two weeks of the Land Bank receiving notice from Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty that he wanted the property down. The Land Bank then acquired the two adjacent properties – one in a tax delinquency foreclosure and one as a donation from the property owner – demolished them and then seeded all three properties to create a green space.
Edward Kelley, the mayor of Cleveland Heights, minces no words in his praise for the Land Bank.
“I don’t know where we would be without the Land Bank,” Kelley said. “It has helped Cleveland Heights tackle the foreclosure crisis head on. Without the work of the Land Bank, many areas in our city would be in shambles.”
Cleveland Ward 11 Councilman Mike Polensek said the combined work of renovation and demolition of the Land Bank has been important in Cleveland.
“They seem to be administered very well,” Polensek said. “I have great respect for Gus Frangos (Cuyahoga Land Bank president) and the work he is leading.”
Polensek particularly emphasized the importance of the renovation work of the Land Bank.
“Part of our challenge is we need to do more to the core of properties that exist that have the bones to be renovated rather than demolished,” Polensek said. “These houses that can be rehabbed have to be captured rather than giving us an empty lot that does not produce taxes.”