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. 

Ohio's Foreclosure Prevention Task Force - Mission Accomplished?

 In March 2007, Governor Strickland created the “Ohio Foreclosure Prevention Task Force” to address the ever-increasing number of foreclosures plaguing the state. The group’s final report, issued in September 2007, identified 27 recommendations for state action. Since the rise in foreclosures likely won’t be going away anytime soon, perhaps it’s appropriate to take stock of Ohio’s progress on the recommendations issued over 16 months ago. 

Here are a few of the Task Force’s ideas where notable progress has been made recently:

 

1. Facilitate land banking of properties.

2. Encourage mediation and alternative dispute resolution.

3. Expedite the post-judgment process of property transfer. 

 

The Ohio legislature deserves a fair amount of credit for getting substantial legislation passed quickly on these issues. Most recently, Governor Strickland signed Senate Bill 353 that authorizes Cuyahoga County to create a “county land reutilization corporation” to manage, develop, and maintain vacant property. Much more can be said about the pros and cons of this land-bank effort (and will be in a later post), but suffice to say it is a positive step toward addressing the mass amounts of abandoned properties in the Cleveland area that have resulted from the rise in foreclosures. At a recent presentation to the Cuyahoga County Law Directors Association, County Treasurer Jim Rokakis was very upbeat about being to tackle the “land” aspect of the foreclosure problem.

 

The goals of encouraging mediation and expediting post-judgment transfer were realized earlier through Substitute House Bill 138, signed by Gov. Strickland in September 2008. The bill made sweeping changes to Ohio’s foreclosure process, all aimed at expediting the process and locating parties who purchase properties at sheriff’s sales. It also explicitly authorizes courts to require the mortgagor and mortgagee to engage in mediation at any stage of the foreclosure. 

 

These actions may not be enough to stem the tide of the current crisis, but addressing foreclosure-related issues through legislation now could certainly help minimize similar problems that arise in the future. Now, about those other 24 recommendations…