Summit County to launch land bank program (Akron Beacon Journal)

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Summit County to launch land bank program (Akron Beacon Journal)

Summit County plans to start a land-bank program to help deal with vacant and abandoned properties.

Under legislation being introduced Monday to the County Council, the county would hire the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute to assist in creating and initially operating the program.

“We’re looking at it as another tool to help communities address the problem,” County Executive Russ Pry said Thursday.

Land banks are public authorities that take ownership of tax-foreclosed properties. The groups can raze blighted properties, fix up others to resell them or hang onto them for future development.

The goal is to rid communities of abandoned eyesores that not only become targets for criminals, but also harm housing values and the psyche of the neighborhood.

“The real estate crisis of the past 10 years has created a destabilized real estate picture that none of us envisioned was possible,” said Jim Rokakis, director of the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute and a former Cuyahoga County treasurer. “The devastation caused by the last 10 years is almost unimaginable.”

He described the impact in Ohio and Michigan as “Katrina-like,” referring to the 2005 hurricane that’s considered the most destructive to hit the United States.

Summit County has been hit hard by abandoned properties. The county fiscal office has verified at least 2,626 abandoned properties in Summit.

The county legislation would create a “County Land Reutilization Corporation.” A five- to nine-member board — the county fiscal officer, county executive and a member of the county council, along with other community and government representatives — would oversee the nonprofit group.

The land-bank idea isn’t new. The Summit County Abandoned and Vacant Property Task Force recommended last year the county start one.

Cuyahoga, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery and Trumbull counties already have created County Land Reutilization Corporations. Many other counties, including Erie, Franklin, Hamilton and Stark, are in the process of setting them up with the help of the Thriving Communities Institute.

“This is becoming a tool that urban Ohio feels is necessary,” Rokakis said.

The problem also is one that leaders can solve, and, in the process, create safer neighborhoods and boost property values, he added.

“This isn’t like solving the problem of urban education or the broken urban family. This problem is finite,” Rokakis said.

Summit County leaders said no taxpayer money would be used to hire the group. Instead, the Akron Community Foundation and GAR Foundation have agreed to contribute $15,000 and $25,000, respectively, to fund the effort.

A big question, though, is how to pay for the program itself.

Rokakis, who created the first county-run program in Ohio, said most use a small percentage of delinquent tax collections.

Pry said the county is moving slowly on that issue and will make sure the program is tailored to the community. He doesn’t want the county to amass a large quantity of properties and hang on to them.

“If we get too large of an inventory, who is going to mow the grass? Who’s going to plow the snow?” he asked. “I don’t want to maintain a lot of abandoned houses.”

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