December 4, 2011 [Akron Beacon Journal]
Summit County officials have noodled the idea of a land bank for months since Ohio passed a law last year permitting other counties besides Cuyahoga County to establish countywide land banks. Several counties have moved ahead and created the nonprofit land re-utilization corporations. It is encouraging that Russ Pry, the Summit executive, plans to present land bank legislation to the County Council on Monday. It is none too soon to move the idea to reality.
Land banks have become a crucial tool for local governments struggling to stay on top of the effects of the housing-market collapse. A weak economy and waves of foreclosures have left hundreds of vacant and abandoned houses in communities across Summit County.
These properties not only invite criminal activities, but they deteriorate, the advance of blight reducing the value of surrounding properties. Further, taxes on properties often go unpaid while local authorities face rising costs to prevent them from becoming a public hazard. Private buyers have little incentive to invest in rundown properties with tax liens attached.
The state law offers county governments an effective mechanism — as Cuyahoga County’s experience has demonstrated — to acquire properties in tax foreclosure and demolish, repair, resell or hold them for future use as necessary. The law also allows the programs to be financed primarily through penalties and interest on unpaid property taxes and assessments, and from secondary sources such as grants and the resale of properties.
Studies show that well structured, a land bank reduces the number of problem properties, helps stabilize property values and provides a better handle on regional development planning.
For Summit County, the task is to work with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Initiative toward an efficient and well-funded program. The goal, aptly framed by Executive Russ Pry, is not for the county to become a landholder but to minimize the effects of a real estate and economic disaster.