Land Banks: Moving foreclosed properties back to productive use

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Land Banks: Moving foreclosed properties back to productive use

April 26, 2012 [The News-Herald]

The vacant bungalow at 1752 E. 228th St. in Euclid likely won’t be a typical foreclosed property.

From the outside, it’s plain to see the house has a good roof and everything appears intact. Inside, there is 957 square feet of living space with a working furnace. The home hasn’t been stripped and gutted.

The property recently was acquired by the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., better known as the county Land Bank. It is for sale for $15,000 to someone who would like rehab it. The Land Bank holds the property deed in escrow until repairs are made and a certificate of occupancy is granted.

Dennis Roberts, the Land Bank’s director of programs and property management, said the home needs about $12,000 to $15,000 worth of work. Homes nearby the property are valued at more than $100,000, according to the Cuyahoga County Fiscal Officer’s website.

“Something like this will probably last about two months max,” Roberts said. “This is a particularly strong house, other houses might last on the market for six months.”

Rather than let vacant properties cause blight in neighborhoods, drag down property values and become potential havens for crime, the Land Bank aims to return them back to productive use.

That can be done through rehabilitation, sale to new private owners, demolition, preparation for traditional economic development, or reuse through gardening, green space and other ecological purposes.

For Land Bank-owned homes that don’t sell within a certain point in time, the nonprofit agency determines whether to demolish or use them for another program, Roberts said.

Vacant and abandoned foreclosed properties can be acquired from a variety of sources, including by banks, government sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae, or by federal and state agencies, delinquent tax foreclosure and donated properties.

Between 75 to 100 properties in Cuyahoga County are acquired per month, Roberts said. About 15 to 18 sell per month.

“A lot of them we are demolishing,” he said. “The other thing is we are evaluating and it takes time to decide what to do them. You have to make sure no one is in them, see if there is asbestos and hire a contractor to demolish.”

A buyer’s application includes stating what they want to do with the property, and the buyer must not own property that is tax delinquent or has code violations. In addition, the buyer must have no foreclosures within the last three years.

If everything is OK, a specification is sent by the Land Bank to detail what is wrong with the property, then proof is needed that the buyer can pay for the purchase, Roberts said.

“We’ll send you a contract, you’ll put an offer in,” he said. “If yours is the strongest offer, we’ll likely accept the offer.”

Interested buyers also can purchase property that the Land Bank has had rehabilitated. A listing of all Land Bank properties is available at

Lake County commissioners took the first step April 12 to establish a county land bank to help deal with foreclosed and abandoned properties. County figures show there were 1,788 foreclosures in 2010 and 1,596 in 2011. Officials hope the land bank is operational next year.

Former Cuyahoga Country Treasurer James Rokakis is now director of the Cleveland-based Western Land Conservancy Thriving Communities Institute and his continuing work on land banks has been featured nationally, including a segment on “60 Minutes”.

He worked with the Ohio General Assembly to authorize county land banks in 2008. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank formed in 2009.

Rokakis helped Lake County begin the process and although the county is a smaller than Cuyahoga, it’s not without distressed properties that need to be improved or demolished.

“Very often there are properties where people are walking away,” he said.

Other land banks are up and running in Mahoning, Trumbull, Lucas, Montgomery, Franklin and Hamilton counties, Rokakis said. Land banks are nearly ready to operate in four other counties, while eight other counties have expressed interest.

“I’m getting calls from across the state,” he said.

Rokakis cautioned that land banks are not an overnight solution to vacant properties and communities will use them for different reasons.

“It’s a survival tool and other communities will use such a tool to thrive and I put Lake in the communities that thrive (category),” Rokakis said.