Cuyahoga County Land Bank Update

In what has become an ongoing series here on the UB REAL Blog, we wanted to issue another update on the now year old Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, better known as the land bank.  Over the past six months, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank has obtained more properties and received millions in funding from the federal government.

A South Euclid lot donated to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank is soon to become one of the program’s community gardens. As of January 13, 2010, the property is the first of its kind to complete both the acquisition and disposition processes. The 50x108 lot, located at 3915 Warrendale Road, was given a market value of $22,800.

 

 

The Land Bank was one of 56 organizations selected to receive a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). $40.8 million of the $737 billion in funds provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was administered to the Land Bank and its partners. More than 400 entities applied for funding. 85% of the funds will be used to demolish or rehabilitate housing in Cleveland, East Cleveland, Lakewood, Shaker Heights, Garfield Heights, and University Heights for resale to low-middle income families. The remaining 15% will be used to expand the Re-Imaging Cleveland pilot program which retains homes for possible future salvage.  The grant has led people to remain optimistic about the revitalization of Cleveland, including Senator Sherrod Brown: “by rebuilding neighborhoods devastated by the economic crisis, we will improve surrounding property values, create new jobs, and foster long-term economic growth.”

On March 23, negotiations were finalized for the January federal award of $40.8 million. The Land Bank and its partners (City of Cleveland Community Development Department, Cuyahoga County Department of Development, and Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority) had roughly three weeks to submit a Consortium Agreement to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to receive funding.  

Thanks to a $400,000 Brownfield Assessment Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April, the Land Bank will begin an evaluation of environmental risks in its residential, industrial, and commercial locations. Demolition and restoration sites will be reviewed for potential contamination, especially with regards to petroleum-based hazards. The funds will initiate an environmental clean-up and, in the process, create a series of jobs within Cuyahoga County. 

With the federal grant money, comatose communities scattered across Cuyahoga County are on their way to revitalization. Although the city of Cleveland may shrink in the meantime, experts project it will rebound in the future especially with global expansion in coastal areas expected to slow. By demolishing vacant houses, the Land Bank can drastically increase the property value of the remaining homes. Today’s land bank has the power to morph barren properties into creative environments in a matter of months, on a scale much greater than the city’s prior, underutilized land bank.

Cuyahoga County's New Land Bank - A Step Toward a "Sustainable Cleveland"

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland recently signed legislation creating a new “land bank” in Cuyahoga County. Like a dose of cold medicine, Senate Bill 353 is not a cure for the foreclosure crisis, but it should help solve one of its primary symptoms – abandoned and vacant housing. 

More than any other area in the state, Greater Cleveland has struggled with vacant properties due to its dramatic population decline over the past fifty years. In 1950, Cleveland’s population stood at 914,808, making it the seventh largest city in the U.S. Today, the population is estimated at 438,000. In other words, the city was built for twice as many people, leaving Clevelanders with easy commutes and plentiful abandoned properties. 

 

 

Essentially, a land bank offers a means for holding property that remains in county hands after a tax foreclosure. They county may simply retain the property, or it could be more proactive and demolish rundown buildings, redevelop or sell the property. A major innovation in the new land bank, as opposed to that authorized by the Ohio legislature in 1976, is to create an entity separate from local government. This offers one huge advantage over the old model - the possibility of quick action on a regional level. The municipal bureaucracies will no longer have to monitor and approve of land bank action. 

 

The land bank, or “County Land Reutilization Corporation,” will come into being in April and efforts are already underway to make sure it is well-funded from the outset. If all goes as planned, it could be a critical tool toward the “Sustainable Cleveland” that city leaders are beginning to envision, and usher in a new wave of well-planned redevelopment opportunities.