Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga counties working to remove blight

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Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga counties working to remove blight

June 20, 2014 [Andrew Cass, The News-Herald]

The Lake County Land Bank demolished its first blighted home on Sept. 30, 2013, kicking off a project to strengthen both the properties and the neighborhoods these homes were located in.

Since that first home in Mentor-on-the-Lake was removed, 38 more vacant, foreclosed and blighted residential structures have been removed by the Land Bank.

“It makes the homes and land more attractive and helps neighborhood stabilization,” said state Rep. John Rogers, D-Mentor-on-the-Lake, who also is executive director of the Lake County Land Bank.

In addition to the 39 properties removed by the Land Bank, another 10 were addressed by the home owners or another interested party. Of those 10, Rogers said three or four had owners and they came in and made the repairs necessary to get the homes back up to code, while the the rest were demolished.

Funding for the home demolitions comes from the Moving Ohio Forward program. The program, started by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, was designed to help communities across the state demolish dilapidated and abandoned residential properties. A total of $75 million has been allocated for the project, with the money coming from Ohio’s share of the national mortgage settlement reached with the country’s five largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses, fraud and unacceptable mortgage practices.

As of May 28, about 10,467 structures have been demolished statewide through the Moving Ohio Forward program according to the Attorney General’s Office.

The Lake County Land Bank has received about $800,000 in funding so far and about $732,500 has been spent. Rogers said the demolitions have averaged out to about $18,000 per home, more than they originally expected, but still “well within the scope of what we intended to do.” Five percent of the funds also go to reimburse administrative costs. CT Consultants of Mentor is overseeing the administrative component of the program.

The first $500,000 is covered by the Moving Ohio Forward grant, from there the cost is split with the Land Bank. Rogers said all costs incurred by the Land Bank for properties held by private owners will be subject to a lien in an effort to recover any funds expended.  These funds will be used for future projects.

The city of Painesville has seen the most homes demolished so far with 10. Mentor-on-the-Lake and Eastlake have the second most with five each. Madison Township has the third most with four.

Another 36 residential structures have been tentatively identified for future demolition.

Of the structures, Eastlake has the most with 11, followed by Mentor with five and Willowick and Madison Township with four each.

Properties scheduled to be demolished are first identified and condemned by the communities. The property owners and all interested parties are notified that the property has been condemned and that the intention is to demolish it.

Rogers said the parties usually have between 30 and 45 days to respond. After that timeframe, the government entity passes a resolution to seek assistance from the Land Bank.

Before the properties can be demolished, environmental checks need to be done to find and remove things like asbestos.

After a structure is removed, the land is graded and seeded in a process that takes seven to 10 days.

Geauga County
In Geauga County, Bainbridge Zoning Inspector Karen Endres said that approximately 30 homes have been demolished through the Moving Ohio Forward program so far. Endres said there are about another three or four in the county that have been identified for possible demolition.

Unlike Lake County, Geauga does not have a land bank. Bainbridge Township took over the administrator role in the summer of 2012, helping other townships demolish homes in their communities for a flat 5 percent fee.

Cuyahoga County 

Cuyahoga County, like Lake and Geauga counties, has received grant funding from Move Ohio Forward and other sources, but District 11 County Councilwoman Sunny Simon said that it is enough to address the county’s large number of blighted homes.

The problem, she said, is especially raging in inner-city Cleveland and in some of the inner-ring suburbs. Along with the blighted homes come crime, vandalism and other problems.

“It just really impacts the entire county,” she said.

Nate Kelly, Cuyahoga County’s deputy chief of staff of development, said estimates of the exact number of vacant and distressed properties in the county can vary based on who is asked. He put the number at about 12,000.

In his State of the County Address in February, County Executive Ed FitzGerald introduced a plan to borrow up to $50 million for demolition projects. Now Cuyahoga County Council is working on the details of how that plan will work.

“It’s still in its infant stages,” Simon said. “Council is studying this plan in depth from both a financial planning and practical standpoint to maximize the impact of such a plan.”

Unlike through the Move Ohio Forward Program, Kelly said that funds through this proposed plan can be used for both residential and commercial demolitions. Another difference is nuisance properties will also be eligible for demolition.

Simon is reaching out to the mayor’s and council members in her district to see what the needs are in those communities.

Kelly said it will be up to the individual communities to identify which properties are in need of demolition. How the municipalities execute the demolitions will also be up to them.  Kelly said some have the capacity to remove the structures themselves, while others will “undoubtedly” use the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, which has experience with efficient demolitions.

There is no timetable for when the plan will be in place, but Simon is hoping to have it finalized by the end of the year.

“We’ve been pretty consistent in pursuing this,” she said.

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