Land Bank to tackle vacant houses (Columbus Dispatch)

Media Reports News Other Relevant News

Land Bank to tackle vacant houses (Columbus Dispatch)

A multimillion-dollar plan to revitalize Franklin County neighborhoods by tearing down or rehabbing dilapidated structures is expected to launch next week.

The three commissioners said they will approve the first countywide land bank, which will seize vacant homes that are delinquent on their taxes. The homes then will be demolished or rehabbed so that the property can be sold and put back into productive use.

County Treasurer Ed Leonard came up with the idea and will fund it by holding back 5 percent, or up to $3.5 million, of delinquent taxes his office collects. He hopes the bank will be running by early summer.

The delinquent taxes his office collects normally would go to school districts, libraries and other agencies that should have been paid. Losing that money will have a negative short-term effect on their budgets, Leonard said, but they will benefit long-term because the bank will help increase property values.

Commissioners will designate the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corp. to operate the land bank. The nonprofit agency, whose mission is to redevelop distressed properties, includes board members from the county, Columbus and other local governments, as well as people from the private sector.

State law mandates that commissioners create or designate an improvement corporation to run the land bank.

The agency will designate which properties should be addressed but will consider public input. “ They are fully capable and are perfect to carry out this mission,” Commissioner Paula Brooks said. “ I have the utmost confidence they will do a good job managing this operation.”

Leonard emphasized that the land bank can seize properties only if they are vacant and have a year or more of delinquent taxes.

Leonard, who spent three years studying the issue in counties including Cuyahoga and Hamilton, said other land banks have run into trouble by taking on a large volume of property. But he said the improvement corporation will be self-sufficient and take on a volume of property it can financially handle.

“It is not my intention or hope they have to come back and ask commissioners for more money down the road,” Leonard said.

The nonprofit’s most recent 990 tax form lists revenue and expenses of less than $200,000.

It’s unclear how many properties will be eligible to be part of the land bank.

The city of Columbus will continue to operate its land bank, but officials will work in conjunction with the county’s bank to handle many of its vacant, tax-delinquent properties, Leonard said. The city has about 900 properties in its land bank and sold 128 homes in 2010.

Columbus reports having 6,215 vacant properties, but fewer than 2,900 of those are more than one year behind on their taxes. Leonard said he is talking to mortgage lenders such as Fannie Mae to see how many properties they will donate to the land bank.

Fannie Mae has donated properties worth $25,000 or less to other land banks, Leonard said.

Near the end of last year, there were 1,222 bank-owned properties in the county, according to RealtyTrac.

Unlike the city’s land bank, the county’s effort will avoid sheriff’s sales and will be able to acquire properties in about three months’ less time. Leonard said his plan is to have some of the funds and operation in place by early summer.

“This is a big win for the community,” Commissioner Marilyn Brown said. “This is something that everyone agrees will help revitalize neighborhoods that really need it.”

Read it from the source.