Cuyahoga County Land Bank Featured in National Study (Campus District Observer)

Land banks’ adaptability yields results for communities tackling vacant and problem properties, according to report.  Approximately 120 land banks exist in the United States. Their ability to adapt to local conditions and needs is helping communities address the negative impacts of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties, according to Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods, a new report from the Center for Community Progress.  Download the report here in the link below. 
 
“What we found confirms that land banks are not one-size-fits-all,” said Kim Graziani, vice president and director of national technical assistance at the Center for Community Progress, who oversaw the research.
 
The report also draws on research to clarify what characterizes effective land banking. The Cuyahoga Land Bank, for example, has balanced demolition, renovation by private investors and collaborations with other Community Development stakeholders to facilitate positive land repurposing. It has worked with CDCs, social service agencies, County government, municipalities and faith-based organizations to promote stable neighborhoods and human enrichment.
 
Other signs of effective land banking include transparency in terms of policies, financials, and operations, as well as strategic links to the tax foreclosure process. Tax-foreclosed properties are considered an important source of land bank property acquisitions.
 
Even the most effective land bank will still require some level of public funding, the report argues, because land banks take on properties with costly liabilities like delinquent taxes, unclear title, code violations, and severe disrepair, generally in neighborhoods with little to no responsible market activity.
 
In Cuyahoga County, working with the County Administration, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has been a leader in promoting best practices and policy leadership in the areas of land reuse and tax foreclosure.  The report studied 67 land banks from 2013-2014, and the Cuyahoga Land Bank is one of only seven land banks featured in an in-depth portrait. 

The Center for Community Progress is the only national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization solely dedicated to building a future in which blight no longer exists in American communities.

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Posted in Land Bank Coverage

Board of Omaha Land Bank has plenty of work to do before it can begin buying run-down properties for redevelopment (Omaha.com)

The board of the newly created Omaha Municipal Land Bank expects to begin acquiring run-down properties in 2015 for redevelopment, but it has a lot of groundwork to handle before doing any groundbreaking work.

Meeting Monday for the first time, the board elected officers. Tom McLeay, a real estate developer and attorney, will be the chairman. The vice chairwoman will be Jamie Berglund, an Omaha Housing Authority board member and senior director of community development with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

The treasurer will be Spencer Danner, community reinvestment officer for Mutual of Omaha Bank.

The board voted unanimously, 7-0, to name the officers.

The other voting members are: Ken Johnson, president of his own consulting company and former Omaha economic development manager; Randy Lenhoff, CEO of Seldin Co.; Scott Semrad, co-founder and manager of Urban Village Development; and Cathy Lang, COO and vice president of Accelerate Nebraska and former head of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and Department of Labor.

The board also has five nonvoting members.

On Monday, the board appointed committees to work on creating its bylaws and policies and procedures, and to lay the groundwork for searching for an executive director.

Berglund said the board will have workshops, possibly in January, with three entities with expertise and experience in land banks.

Those are the Thriving Communities Institute and Cuyahoga County Land Bank from Cleveland, and the Center for Community Progress, a national nonprofit.

Berglund told the board that a donor is willing to fund the workshops. She declined to identify the donor.

Berglund said the groups are technical experts, some of whom helped craft Nebraska’s land bank legislation and Omaha’s ordinance.

The Omaha City Council passed an ordinance in July creating the land bank. It is aimed at dealing with the chronic problem of vacant, dilapidated houses and lots in Omaha neighborhoods.

Mayor Jean Stothert, who appointed the board, budgeted $150,000 in city funds for the first year of operations.

The land bank will have authority to buy or accept donations of tax-delinquent, run-down, abandoned houses, vacant lots and other problem properties, then sell them for redevelopment.

It will have to raise money, including from donors, for those purchases, at least initially.

Stothert and City Councilmen Ben Gray and Pete Festersen addressed the board Monday.

The board will be subject to Nebraska open meetings and public records laws.

The board plans to meet regularly at 9 a.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center, 1819 Farnam St. The room is yet to be determined. The next meeting will be Jan. 14.

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Children’s Museum of Cleveland gains control of Euclid Avenue mansion in $50,000 deal (Cleveland.com)

A quiet real estate deal that closed Tuesday augurs a second chance for a small Cleveland cultural institution and an expansive house on the city’s onetime Millionaire’s Row.

A company tied to the Children’s Museum of Cleveland paid $50,000 this week for the empty Stager-Beckwith mansion, which slipped into foreclosure in 2012. Now the historic home, at times a residence, a private club and a university, will enter yet another life cycle as a playground and classroom for infants and young children.

There are two story lines here, converging in new opportunities for a museum with growth aspirations and a troubled property that begs for care.

The house, built in the 1860s and long occupied by the private University Club, was renovated a decade ago for Myers University. Since 2008, when Myers went belly-up, the 66,000-square-foot mansion has been sitting vacant, deteriorating.

Then there’s the museum, crammed into an old Howard Johnson restaurant in University Circle, underperforming its peers in other cities and staring down a deadline to move. The museum’s current site, leased from nonprofit group University Circle Inc., could be cleared in mid-2015 to make way for a high-rise apartment tower.

“This location has always felt a little transient, a little like a temporary facility,” Maria Campanelli, the executive director, said of the museum’s longtime location. “We need to move this institution. We don’t have a lot of money. We have a very constricted timeline.”

Small museum thinks big

Marrying the museum and the mansion offers a creative — though still challenging — path forward. The nonprofit needs to raise roughly $8 million to renovate the house and build new exhibits, no small goal for an institution of its size. During the fundraising and construction period, the museum might have to move to short-term digs. Or close for a stretch.

“There is absolutely the potential that we may be without walls, but still may be able to provide a community and public benefit,” Campanelli said. “I don’t think the dark time is going to be years and years and years. We would like to believe that we could keep it at a year.”

Developer Michael Chesler, who has teamed up with the museum, said he’s exploring ways to tackle the mansion renovations in phases. That approach might allow the museum to move in sooner, even if the final project isn’t complete.

“Our idea is to try to keep their lights on,” said Chesler, president of the Chesler Group of Russell Township. “We’re working breakneck. … Our plan is to do some interim, stabilization construction within the next 90 days. Literally [Wednesday] morning, there are going to be men in that building.”

The museum, which focuses on children from birth to 8 years old, serves an average of 100,000 people each year at its building or through outreach programs. Demographic data show those children and families hail from a wide array of backgrounds, including many low- to middle-income households. Museum visitors are roughly split between east and west siders and between Cuyahoga County residents and people who live further afield.

Our plan is to do … stabilization construction within the next 90 days. Literally [Wednesday] morning, there are going to be men in that building.

With only 6,000 square feet of exhibit space in an 11,000-square-foot building, the museum is much smaller than its counterparts in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and other peer cities. Campanelli believes that, based on conservative estimates, the museum could increase traffic by 30 percent with a larger space, new exhibits and some marketing.

That’s where the Stager-Beckwith house, at 3813 Euclid Ave., comes in.

The museum could more than double its footprint, to 25,000 square feet, with nearly half of that allocated to exhibits and the rest for birthday parties, events and basic necessities, such as parking for strollers. Other parts of the building might be rented out to nonprofits or businesses focused on early childhood development.

Rocky road for gilded real estate

Cuyahoga County initiated foreclosure proceedings on the mansion in late 2012, after unpaid property tax bills piled up. The city of Cleveland, which lent money it will never recoup for the Myers project, tried last year to structure a deal involving Chesler and the museum.

But that plan fizzled after a pipe burst during last winter’s brutal cold snap. Water damage and flooding added to the renovation costs for the mansion and cut into the price the developer was willing to pay. An out-of-town investor looked at the building but didn’t make a compelling offer, said Tracey Nichols, the city’s economic development director.

So the foreclosure case moved along. And the mansion hit the auction block, with little fanfare, at two sheriff’s sales last summer. The minimum price was $750,000, but nobody bit. Blame the tax delinquencies, water damage, roof problems and a protective easement on the building that would prevent a developer from knocking it down or modifying the façade.

After the failed auctions, the property headed into forfeiture. The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, formally known as the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilitzation Corp., recently picked it up. On Tuesday, a for-profit company formed by museum board member Doreen Cahoon and her husband, Dick, acquired the mansion for $50,000.

That’s a far cry from the $1 million purchase price the city proposed in 2013.

“If you have to pay $1 million before putting a shovel in the ground, you’ve basically taken a hard project and made it into an impossible project,” said Gus Frangos, the land bank’s president. “The laws were designed specifically to allow land banks to act as this intermediary to make properties that are otherwise near-impossible become productive.”

Cleveland is out more than $4.5 million on the decade-old Myers loan. Cuyahoga County won’t see those back taxes. But the mansion, the only remaining 19th-century house of its kind on Euclid Avenue, won’t linger in limbo.

“The city is glad that this beautiful historic landmark may be saved and put to good use,” Nichols wrote in an email earlier this year. “While the city’s loan is a loss, our reserves will cover it. In the end, our goal has always been to restore the building and bring new jobs and vibrancy to the area.”

Timetable remains unclear

Campanelli wouldn’t put a firm timeline on the museum’s move. The museum still plans to work with Chesler to pursue federal and state historic-preservation tax credits for renovating the mansion – a process that takes time, since the state credits are limited and competitive. Cahoon and her husband have pledged $1 million to the museum’s campaign for its new space, but there’s a lot more fundraising to do.

“I feel confident,” said Cahoon, who lives in Cleveland Heights and has been involved with the museum for 14 years. “Until now, since we didn’t actually have the building, the best we could do was talk to people and say ‘If we did this, would you contribute?’ Once this happens, we can go back to everyone.”

Chris Ronayne of University Circle Inc., the museum’s landlord, said the nonprofit neighborhood group hopes to take possession of the current facility this summer. Local developers Mitchell Schneider and Sam Petros are working on schemes for an apartment tower that would replace the museum and occupy a 1.9-acre site at Euclid and Stearns Road.

“University Circle Inc. is very interested in making sure that the children’s museum has a suitable permanent home but also, if it seems appropriate, a swing space, an interim home,” Ronayne said, adding that empty space at the Western Reserve Historical Society might be a possible short-term location.

“We all know that the current facility doesn’t meet modern needs for a children’s museum, and everybody’s rooting for a children’s museum in Cleveland.”

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Heinen’s is building a $9 million expanded bakery, meat-cutting and prepared-foods kitchen in Warrensville Heights (Cleveland.com)

Demolition crews from the Cuyahoga Land Bank are clearing the future home of Heinen’s Fine Foods’ $9 million expanded bakery, meat-cutting facility and prepared foods kitchens on South Miles Road in Warrensville Heights, just west of the 85-year-old grocer’s current warehouses.

Scheduled for completion in early 2016, the 70,000-square-foot food production facility will be more efficient than Heinen’s current buildings, enable the company to offer products it doesn’t have the space for now, and provide full-time jobs for another 20 to 25 people, in addition to the current 50 employees.

It will also enable the grocer to better supply its now 20 stores, including four in Greater Chicago, as well as its downtown Cleveland store opening next spring, and a Chagrin Falls store for which co-Presidents Jeff and Tom Heinen have signed a letter of intent.

The $610,000 demolition project, which includes tearing down a dilapidated 77,000-square-foot building, remediating asbestos on the site, and removing fences and debris, will go on for about another month or so. Heinen’s plans to buy the 5.1-acre site from the Land Bank. New construction will begin in the spring.

“The Cuyahoga Land Bank was instrumental in the acquisition and clean-up of this site, which is contiguous to our present warehouse,” said Heinen’s Director of Finance Daniel Musil, in a statement.

“This allows us to build our new food production plant, leverages the shipping and receiving infrastructure we currently have in place at our present warehouse facility and grants access to future potential expansion.The food production plant will be utilized to expand the wide array of meat, prepared food and bakery products, enhancing our selection for customers,” Musil added.

Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers said in the same statement that “The Heinen’s expansion project has been a top economic development priority that the City has been actively facilitating for a long time. Heinen’s 40-year history in Warrensville Heights and Northeast Ohio demonstrates their commitment to revitalizing the region.”

Heinen’s now has two warehouses across the street from each other in Warrensville Heights, including about 80,000 square feet of refrigerated space for dairy items and frozen foods, dating from about 1970.

The Cleveland Land Bank said efforts began two years ago, when Heinen’s asked the city for help buying the adjacent property to expand its warehouses. “I immediately reached out to the Cuyahoga County Department of Development and the Cuyahoga Land Bank for assistance,” said Warrensville Heights Economic Development Director Pequita Hansberry. The county development department and the Land Bank helped track down the owner of the vacant building and helped Heinens, the city and other parties acquire it.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank found out that the property had a $1 million lien on it, and was significantly behind on its taxes. It reached out to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office to foreclose on the property, and the Land Bank took over the title earlier this year. The county also gave Heinen’s a $500,000 loan toward the cost of the demolition.

“Because of a team effort between the County Development Department, the City of Warrensville Heights and the Cuyahoga Land Bank, we were able to provide Heinen’s the opportunity to expand in Warrensville Heights, bringing in new jobs and reducing blight,” said Cheryl Stephens, the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s Director of Acquisitions, Dispositions and Development, in a statement.

The new space will create more space for Heinen’s custom-decorated cakes and pastries, and enable it to process larger quantities of beef and pork from its ranchers into the roasts, T-bone steaks and pork chops customers like, Musil said.

Heinen’s has in recent years expanded its selection of prepared and Grab-n-Go foods, from vegetable lasagnas to turkey meatloaf and chicken romano, and expects sales of those items to grow with its store expansion.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald said: “The expansion of the Heinen’s food production plant will not only create additional jobs for our region, it will also make use of a blighted area that has been vacant for several years. I am delighted that we were able to collaborate successfully with several stakeholders to ensure that this project would become a reality and to keep a successful family-owned business here in Cuyahoga County.”

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Posted in Land Bank Coverage, Relevant News

Cuyahoga Land Bank demolition in Warrensville Heights makes way for Heinen’s expansion (Press Release)

release 1

Cuyahoga Land Bank demolition crews got to work early this morning, taking down a dilapidated 77,000 square foot structure in order to make way for a new Heinen’s food production plant.  The demolition is the culmination of a $610,000 effort to remove the building, which also includes asbestos remediation, cleanout, fencing and debris removal.

Heinen’s is purchasing the property from the Cuyahoga Land Bank and reimbursing all costs related to the demolition.  On threlease 5e site, they plan to complete a $9 million, 70,000 square foot food production plant, where Heinen’s will have a full bakery, cut and package
their Heinen’s Own meat products and prepare meal solutions for both Heinen’s Gourmet case and their Grab-N-Go section.

“The Cuyahoga Land Bank was instrumental in the acquisition and clean-up of this site, which is contiguous to our present ware
house,” said Heinen’s Director of Finance Daniel Musil.  “This allows us to build our new food production plant, leverages the shipping and receiving infrastructure we currently have in place at our present warehouse facility and grants access to future potential expansion.  The food production plant will be utilized to expand the wide array of meat, prepared food and bakery products, enhancing our selection for customers.”

“The Heinen’s expansion project has been a top economic development priority that the City has been actively facilitating for a long time. Heinen’s 40 year history in Warrensville Heights and Northeast Ohio demonstrates their commitment to revitalizing the region,”
said Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers.  “Without the assistance of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, I can’t promise you this effort would have come to fruition as quickly as it did.”
The creation of a home for Heinen’s food production plant in Warrensville Heights began two years ago for the Cuyahoga Land Bank, when Warrensville Heights Economic Development Director Pequita Hansberry reached out for assistance.

“When Heinen’s approached the city regarding an expansion project in Warrensville Heights, I immediately reached out to the Cuyahoga County Department of Development and the Cuyahoga Land Bank for assistance,” said Hansberry. “The Department of Development and the Land Bank worked diligently to locate the owner of the vacant building and assisted Heinen’s, the City and other parties with the acquisition. Now, two years later, Heinen’s will construct a $9 million warehouse and production facility on South Miles Road that will spur economic growth and revitalization in Northeast Ohio.”

Heinen’s wanted to expanrelease 3d their warehouse and had attempted to purchase the dilapidated property on approximately five acres adjacent to them with no success.  With some research, the Cuyahoga Land Bank discovered that the property in question had a $1 million lien on it and was significantly delinquent on its taxes.  With this information, the partners reached out to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office to handle a foreclosure on the property.

The foreclosure completed, the Cuyahoga Land Bank took title to the property earlier this year and an environmental analysis uncovered the need for asbestos remediation, which was conducted prior to today’s demolition.

“Because of a team effort between the County Development Department, the City of Warrensville Heights and the Cuyahoga Land Bank, we were able to provide Heinen’s the opportunity to expand in Warrensville Heights, bringing in new jobs and reducing blight,” said the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s Director of Acquisitions, Dispositions and Development Cheryl Stephens.  “Through collaboration and a collective focus on economic development in our community we were able to acquire tax delinquent land, cleanse it of liens, demolish vacant and abandoned structures, finance acquisition and development costs and offer all of this to a private, for-profit business quickly.”

“This project is yet another example of how the Cuyahoga County Western Reserve Fund is a great financial resource that assists businesses with business growth and land reutilization,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald. “The expansion of the Heinen’s food production plant will not only create additional jobs for our region, it will also make use of a blighted area that has been vacant for severarelease 1l years. I am delighted that we were able to collaborate successfully with several stakeholders to ensure that this project would become a reality and to keep a successful family-owned business here in Cuyahoga County.”

“This Cuyahoga Land Bank demolition will facilitate continued economic development by one of Cuyahoga County’s most su
ccessful local businesses, all while putting five acres of delinquent land to productive use,” said Cuyahoga County Council President C. Ellen Connally. “This project will be a boon to both Warrensville Heights and Cuyahoga County.”

Read the release here.

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Posted in Land Bank Coverage, Press Release

Fun Fact

The Cuyahoga Land Bank property inventory is constantly changing through our acquisition, disposition, sale and renovation of homes. Currently, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has a total of 60 homes for sale throughout the county. There are a total of 58 properties for sale that require renovation and are available through our Deed-in-Escrow Program and two properties for sale that are Move-in Ready. Please visit our website property listing page to view our homes for sale!

Posted in 2014.12.1, Fun Fact!

Advice for land banks from Cuyahoga Land Bank’s Gus Frangos (Community Progress Blog)

Our new report, Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods, takes an in-depth look at how the Cuyahoga Land Bank serves the community in and around Cleveland, Ohio. It was established in 2009, has nearly 30 staff members and, as of March 2014, had more than 1,150 properties in its inventory. The Cuyahoga Land Bank’s operations — from robust data systems to efficient workflows to innovative homeownership programs – earn it the nickname “The Professional” in our report.

Those homeownership programs include the “Discovering Home Program,” which connects refugees to housing, and the “Homefront Veterans Home Ownership Program,” which helps veterans purchase rehabbed homes.

Strong leadership by President Gus Frangos has been a key factor in the land bank’s ability to establish a culture of efficiency and professionalism. In less than five years, despite working in one of the epicenters of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, Frangos has increased capacity from 8 to 28 staff members, established formal agreements with several major financial institutions to create efficient acquisition workflows, and has, on average, demolished more than 65 structures a month. In this excerpt from Take it to the Bank, Frangos shares advice with other land bank leaders:

– Stay on mission and execute in a professional, quality, and accurate manner

- Maintain a good and interactive office culture

– Deliver good customer service to the public, the land bank board, elected officials, and community stakeholders

- Be transparent and accountable

- Deepen public buy-in through communications, collaborations, and information

- Engage in statewide policy and advocacy efforts

- Engage in research advocacy

- Push the envelope and expand collaborations

Curious to know more about the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s story — as well as the stories of other land banks in the U.S.? Download Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods here.

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Did you know?

The Cuyahoga Land Bank is currently launching a new Greening Program with supporHHF 4t from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s Neighborhood Improvement Program (NIP).  The program was inspired by the success of a similar nationally recognized program, Reimagining Cleveland.  Through the NIP Greening Program, the Cuyahoga Land Bank will be able to transform hundreds of formerly vacant and demolished properties into beautiful green space.  The program will coincide with the Cuyahoga Land Bank Side Yard Program to beautify the vacant lots adjacent to residents’ homes.  The lots eligible for the program will be improved through additional landscaping, trees and fencing. The program will not only beautify vacant lots but also add to the aesthetics of the street, stabilize surrounding properties, and offer the community healthy green space for passive and active recreation. The Cuyahoga Land Bank is excited that the NIP Greening Program is underway.  The program is a great opportunity to transform vacant lots into community assets!

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Posted in 2011.12.1, Didja Know?

Cuyahoga County Land Bank featured in national report (Cleveland.com)

The county land bank was featured positively in a recent report from the Center for Community Progress, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank that advocates for policies to fight urban and community blight.

The report offered profiles of seven different land bank organizations across the country. A section about Cuyahoga County praises the land bank’s “strong leadership” and professionalism.

“As one of the fastest-growing land banks in the nation, the Cuyahoga Land Bank is well-positioned to continue posting gains in the fight against blight in one of the areas hit hardest by the fallout of the Great Recession,” the report states.

You can download a copy of the report here.

Read it from the source.

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An Instant Connection to Cleveland

Have you ever felt a calling to a particular place? That is how Bob and Judy Willard felt when they visited Cleveland for the very first time in 2010.  The Willards had visited several cities throughout the country, searching for the right place to fulfill their call to ministry. Land Bank Staff Once, the Willards found Cleveland, they took a leap of faith and moved without having established any residency. They instead chose to put most of their belongings in storage and live at extended stay hotels while they established themselves in Cleveland. While deciding where to live, Bob and Judy strongly believed, and their four children agreed, that they should reside in the neighborhood where they practice their ministry. This belief led the Willards to purchase on the East Side of Cleveland in November 2010.  Not long after, in Spring of 2011, the Willards met the International Ministry Network (IMN) and made a strong connection with the organization. IMN’s vision of establishing churches in inner-city communities around the country aligned closely with the Willard’s family goal of establishing their church in the City of Cleveland. IMN played an instrumental role in helping the Willards fulfill their calling.
The Willard’s founded their church, The Meeting Place, in Spring of 2011 just in time for Easter.  They established their church in inner-city Cleveland and devoted their mission to sharing love, hope and guidance to living a Christian life.
Recently, the Willards acquired the property next to their home through the Cuyahoga Land Bank.  “As soon as the Cuyahoga Land Bank sign went up oLand Bank Staff n the foreclosed house next door, we went on their website,” said Bob Willard.  “After contacting them, we met with Gus and started pursuing the property.”  The Cuyahoga Land Bank helped the Willards to smoothly acquire the home. Bob was very satisfied with the results “I thought it was outstanding.  They were helpful through the whole process, and you can tell they’re eager to get properties back into the system.”
The Willards intend to transform the property into rental space for their church staff.  Acquiring the property from the Cuyahoga Land Bank allowed the Willards to save money for renovation.  The cost savings will also allow the Willards to offer lower rent to the family who decides to join their ministry.
“It will be huge to be able to have more help, and the idea of being able to partner with another family in ministry will make a huge impact,” said Bob Willard.  “I can’t tell you how much I look forward to having the home occupied by staff.”
Since the Willards purchased the home in July 2014, they have launched their renovation work.  The repairs and upgrades to the property are being completed by both professional contractors and by volunteer Mission Teams. The Mission teams are comprised of six to eight men who will join the Willards for weekends to help out with tasks such as cleanup and painting.  With everyone working hard, the Willard’s hope to have the home completed soon!

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Posted in 2014.12.1, Newsletter

Educational Garden for Urban Community School

The Urban Community School (UCS) recently collaborated with the Cuyahoga Land Bank to acquire land to develop a Learning Garden.  UCS will be partnering  with The Cleveland Botanical Garden, to offer unique educational lessons for students and teachers alike.Land Bank Staff
Since 1968, UCS has been educating children from preschool through eighth grade on Cleveland’s West Side.  Serving primarily low-income families, UCS has expanded to accommodate over 400 students per year. The school has been recognized as a model for urban education and was the first school in Cleveland to receive The Excellence in Education Award from the U.S. Department of Education.
The school has been acquiring parcels of land for its continued expansion since 2007. Chief Operating and Development Officer Thomas Gill, who once interned at the Cuyahoga Land Bank, was familiar with its innovative programs. Thomas connected with the Cuyahoga Land Bank and began acquiring lots surrounding the school’s campus. This past year, in addition to other renovations to the school, work began on “The Garden Initiative.”
UCS is hoping to fully integrate the half-acre Learning Garden into the 2015-2016 school year curriculumLand Bank Staff .  The Learning Garden will give students the opportunity to nurture plants as they grow from seeds.  The Learning Garden will provide a hands-on learning experience and an opportunity for children to literally see the fruits of their labor. A Cleveland Botanical Garden instructor will work with students and faculty on teaching the garden curriculum.
“The Cleveland Botanical Garden made sense as a collaborator because they understand how to design a curriculum to teach children life lessons,” said Gill.
The design of the gardens came from a visioning session made up of students and teachers with the Cleveland Botanical Garden.  “We want it to be a place that is imaginative and creative, while learning about gardening,” said Anne Juster, Director of the School Garden Partnership at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.  “My hope is that it will be a model for other schools in the region.”
The Learning Garden will eventually be a year-round classroom that will provide opportunities for students to learn about plant life and vegetation throughout each session. It will have a diverse curriculum made up of history, business, and gardening skills including harvesting produce and managing food production.
In addition to the academic lessons, the garden will also teach students about patience and responsibility.  “It’s not enough to build a garden, you have to have the right staff in place to take care of it,” said Juster.  “Gardens take time.”
The Learning Garden will have many exciting features, including a natural fence of trees, motion sensitive lighting, a compost station, rain barrels, outdoor classroom space, a sunflower garden and a pumpkin patch.
For more information on Urban Community School and its programs, please visit its website.
For more information on the Cleveland Botanical Garden and the many learning programs it offers visit its website.

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Posted in 2014.12.1, Newsletter

Urban Community School | Connection to Cleveland – Cuyahoga Land Bank News – 2014.12.1

NL 12.1

Posted in 2014.12.1, Newsletter

Fannie Mae selling 44 homes to Detroit Land Bank (Detroit Free Press)

Fannie Mae, the national leader in providing money for the secondary mortgage market, said today it will sell 44 Detroit properties it acquired through foreclosure to the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

The land bank will demolish some of the properties and sell others to the public through its online auction site buildingdetroit.org.

“Vacant properties are a strain on the neighborhood and can depress property values for other homeowners,” said P.J. McCarthy, Fannie Mae’s vice president of Alternative Dispositions and Real Estate Asset Management. “We are happy to partner with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to help transform these properties into homes for local families, or new community spaces.”

Additional sales to the Detroit Land Bank are likely, he added.

“This deal with Fannie Mae is a very important piece of the Detroit Land Bank’s larger strategy to stabilize neighborhoods through our auction program, demolition, and side lot sales,” said Detroit Land Bank Authority Kevin Simowski. “The Detroit Land Bank is working with multiple financial institutions on similar deals so we can address every vacant house in our target neighborhoods.”

In a similar vein, Fannie Mae has been working with the Cuyahoga Land Bank in Ohio since 2009 to address the vacant property issue in Cleveland, efforts that involved more than 1,000 foreclosed properties.

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Fun Fact!

The Cuyahoga Land Bank keeps busy in acquisition and demolition of abandoned and nuisance properties throughout the county. After each property is demolished, the contractors are required to properly grade theLand Bank Staff lot. During demolition, inspections occur before, during, and after to assure that the site is properly finished. On average, the grading of a lot requires approximately 200 square feet of fill after demolition! Each Cuyahoga Land Bank demolition must comply with all demolition specifications and a full site finish must be achieved. These standards allow for each vacant lot to be a candidate for land reuse after demolition.

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Posted in 2014.11.2, Fun Fact!

Macon-Bibb land bank recognized as conduit for revitalization (Macon Telegraph)

A national nonprofit focused on combating blight is highlighting work from the Macon-Bibb Land Bank Authority in its latest report on land banking.

The Center for Community Progress referred to Macon-Bibb as “The Conduit” for the work it does with a range of partners in revitalizing neighborhoods and providing affordable housing while preserving historic assets. Macon-Bibb was one of seven land banks featured in “Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods,” which was released Tuesday.

“We are a conduit,” said Alison Souther Goldey, director of the land bank. “We’re not the silver bullet — we are just part of it. It’s a little like you take an assembly line approach of taking properties that are under-utilized, and we are the conduit to make that happen.”

The land bank’s biggest power is the ability to forgive delinquent property taxes on land it acquires. This can mean new life for vacant or abandoned property where unpaid taxes might exceed the value of the property and make it a harder sell for redevelopment.

“We have a lot of tools that local government doesn’t have,” Goldey said. “For instance, we are a conduit to be able to acquire property … and transfer those properties out to responsible developers, whereas a local government will have to put those properties out to bid.”

Nationally, there are about 120 land banks, and Macon-Bibb is one of the oldest.

Founded in 1996, the land bank has focused its efforts in targeted neighborhoods and uses tax sales, donations and purchases to acquire property.

The Center for Community Progress report highlights Macon-Bibb’s efforts in Beall’s Hill, Lynmore Estates and the River Edge Behavioral Health Center development off Emery Highway.

“Our focus now is going to be joining efforts with Macon-Bibb County and our other partners such as Habitat (for Humanity) to work on the blight plan — to be a part of the blight task force,” Goldey said. “That is going to be our focus on the upcoming years. … There is no way you can effectively tackle blight without a land bank.”

The report also features land banks in Atlanta; Genesee County, Michigan; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Syracuse, New York; Marquette County, Michigan; and Chautauqua County, New York.

“I am delighted because a lot of times when you hear about land banks, you hear about them being in a Detroit or Flint, Michigan … for them to feature the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority actually shows that land banks can work in many different environments and many different sized cities,” Goldey said. “Land banks can be a benefit in any community.”

Read it from the source.

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The City Mission

Michelle Mendez had a big dream – to find housing for her and her seven children.  In October, her dream became a reality when the ribbon was cut on the first Hope House, a collaborative project with the Cuyahoga Land Bank, The City Mission and Church on the Rise in Westlake, Ohio.Land Bank Staff
Michelle and her children were living at Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center when they were selected as the first family to occupy a Hope House. “When I was told about the home, I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I thought, this can’t be happening.  When Pastor Paul (Pastor of Church on the Rise) introduced me as the one who was going to be living in the home, that’s when I realized it was a reality.  I wanted to cry because it was actually happening!”
Hope House is part of New Horizons, an initiative of the Cuyahoga Land Bank and The City Mission partnering with a sponsoring church to identify, acquire and renovate a house for families moving from Laura’s Home, a ministry of The City Mission. The sponsor for the house was Church on the Rise of Westlake. With the help of volunteer tradesmen and church parishioners, the house was turned into a home.
The church committed to ongoing property management and The City Mission devoted services to aid and strengthen the Mendez’s family transition.
The ribbon cutting event included Mendez’s family,  friends, and members of The City Mission, Church on the Rise and Cuyahoga Land Bank Chairman and Cleveland Councilman Anthony Brancatelli. Speaking at the event, The City Mission CEO Richard Trickel said, “We have a vision for providing homes for families. This is just the start and it’s our hope that this house will be a shining example of what can be done when people work together to meet the needs of others in the community.”
During the ceremony Michelle reflected on the tough times her family endured and on her appreciation for Laura’s Home, New Horizons, and her family’s new Hope House.
Michelle’s joy and appreciation was so visible and the renovation results so convincing that Pastor Tim Walker of Church Alive in Brook Park surprised the gathering by committing his church to be the sponsor for the next Hope House. “We all understand that home ownership is foundational for families building a secure financial future,” said Walker. “The problem has always been financial sustainability. I’ve been so inspired by this program that I’m making the commitment on behalf of Church Alive to sponsor the next Hope House. Over the next few years I think we can make a major impact on homeless families in the City of Cleveland.”
The Cuyahoga Land Bank and The City Mission look forward to partnering with more churches to create more Hope Houses for families. “This is a fabulous experience for us at the Cuyahoga Land Bank because our mission is to repurpose properties and fix homes, but that’s not what really excites us. What excites us is knowing that when you fix a home, you’re investing in someone’s life,” Gus Frangos, President of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, said as he addressed the Mendez family and the crowd.  “There’s nothing better than having a place where you come home at the end of the day and know this is my home, this is home.”
Welcome home, Michelle!

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Posted in 2014.11.2, Newsletter

County Council Takes a Bite out of Blight

Land Bank Staff Cuyahoga County made a strong statement in the fight against blight.  At the County Council’s October 28, 2014 meeting, it passed a broad ordinance authorizing a $50 million bond issuance to help fund the demolition of vacant and blighted structures.
The bond initiative was announced by County Executive Ed FitzGerald earlier this year.  The County Council, community stakeholders, the Cuyahoga Land Bank and County Administration staff worked together for the next several months to craft a flexible, yet targeted approach to blight elimination throughout some of the County’s hardest hit areas.  “We know how dangerous these abandoned structures can be.  Not only do they devalue a community, but serious criminal activity and arson occur in such structures,” said City of Cleveland Councilman and Cuyahoga Land Bank Chairman Anthony Brancatelli.
County Councilman Dan Brady was instrumental in shepherding the legislation through the County Council and garnering the needed community input and support to assure maximum community impact.  Cuyahoga Land Bank President Gus Frangos and Chief Operating Officer William Whitney also weighed in with the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s operational expertise to make sure the legislation was integrated with the work of the Cuyahoga Land Bank.  “We know that areas like Cleveland, East Cleveland and the inner-ring suburbs are the communities in greatest need of demolition dollars.  Because we work with all of them, this legislation allows us to continue our work uninterrupted throughout the County,” said Whitney.
The legislation calls for a $9 million allocation to the Cuyahoga Land Bank, with the remaining funds being available to Cleveland and surrounding suburbs.
The legislation calls for eliminating a large chunk of blight within roughly a three year period of time.  “By doing this, it will jump start real estate markets which have been hindered from growing due to the presence of blight,” said Nathan Kelly, Deputy Chief of Staff representing Executive Ed FitzGerald in the County’s development efforts.  “All of the studies show that this not only will increase property values but also lesson the rate of home foreclosures,” said Frangos who praised the County Council and County Executive Ed FitzGerald for supporting this urgent community development priority.

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Posted in 2014.11.2, Newsletter

Cuyahoga County Demolition Bond | City Mission – Cuyahoga Land Bank News – 2014.11.2

NL 11-21

Posted in 2014.11.2, Newsletter

Cities Resort to Demolition to Deal With Blight (Realty Biz News)

A deconstruction movement is brewing across U.S. cities, in an effort to combat neighborhood blight and keep dilapidated homes from hampering nearby home prices. Instead of repairing or rebuilding abandoned or foreclosed homes, some cities are taking the bold move to demolish them, paving the way for more open space and parks.

Cities are paying for the demolitions using funds they’ve received from the Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit Fund, which originally was created to help cities prevent foreclosures and lower defaulting borrowers’ mortgages. Cities are now reallocating the money toward demolition. In Cleveland, city officials are moving ahead on removing nearly 6,000 foreclosed and abandoned homes from the city’s inventory. “If there are two bad houses on a block, people will move away and their houses go vacant. Take them down and people will stay,” Jim Rokakis, a director of Thriving Communities in Cleveland, told CNNMoney. City officials plan to carve out more open space from the demolished homes, keeping the properties as empty lots with parks, greenhouses, and vineyards, CNNMoney reports. In 2010, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank gave entrepreneur Mansfield Frazier a three-quarter acre lot following demolition of a 30-unit apartment building. Frazier agreed to make good on a promise that he would turn the empty lot into a vineyard within five years. Within three years, Frazier created the vineyard, Chateau Hough. In Michigan, demolishing homes has become a popular tool for city officials. Using $175 million earmarked from the Hardest Hit Fund, Michigan has been demolishing homes across 16 of its cities, including in Detroit and Grand Rapids. In Detroit, about 250 homes are being demolished per week; the city has about 80,000 abandoned properties. In Youngstown, Ohio, city officials are tearing down about 4,000 vacant buildings and offering the empty lots to neighbors, who agree to maintain the properties. Other empty lots will be open space where the city plans to plant trees. Youngstown has seen its population drop by 60 percent since the 1960s. As the population decreases, city officials there have been shutting down entire neighborhoods, which is helping to save on city services such as sanitation and water.

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Why this city ‘removes cancer cells’ of foreclosed and abandoned homes (CNN Wire)

In and around Cleveland, nearly 6,000 foreclosed and abandoned homes are being destroyed in an effort to save neighborhoods from blight, crime and sinking home prices.

Instead of trying to rebuild on these properties, however, the city has been turning the empty lots into parks, greenhouses, even vineyards.

“For the larger body — the neighborhood — to survive, you have to remove those cancer cells,” said Frank Ford, a policy adviser for the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute of Cleveland.

During the housing bust, Ford worked at a community redevelopment group that renovated 50 foreclosed homes in Cleveland for $180,000 each. They sold the rehabbed homes for about $90,000 apiece, taking a $90,000 hit on each.

If they had spent that money to demolish nine or 10 foreclosed homes instead and turned the land into green space, it would have had an immediate beneficial impact, said Ford.

“There’s a direct relationship,” said Ford’s colleague Jim Rokakis, a director at Thriving Communities. “If there are two bad houses on a block, people will move away and their houses go vacant. Take them down and people will stay.”

In June 2013, Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, was granted permission to use more than $10 million of Ohio’s Hardest Hit Fund money to tear down up to 1,000 abandoned buildings.

The Hardest Hit Fund, which was established by the Treasury Department in 2010, was initially set up to back efforts that prevented foreclosures. The money could be used to lower a troubled borrower’s mortgage balance, for example.

But in cities like Cleveland, there were so many blighted, vacant homes plaguing whole neighborhoods that funds started being reallocated toward demolition instead.

Tearing down houses has been so effective in Cleveland, that last month Cuyahoga County issued a $50 million bond so it can demolish another 5,000 houses, said Rokakis.

The house cleaning extends beyond Cleveland.

Michigan is using $175 million in Hardest Hit Fund money to demolish homes across 16 cities, including Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids. In Detroit alone, where there are about 80,000 abandoned properties, 250 homes are being demolished a week.

Gary, Ind., is using $6.6 million in Hardest Hit funds to demolish 700 of its 8,000 vacant homes and buildings. Meanwhile, long suffering Youngstown, Ohio, is spending Treasury money to knock down a few hundred of its 4,000 vacant buildings, according to Councilman John R. Swierz.

Many of the emptied lots will be offered to neighbors who agree to maintain the properties. Others will be planted with trees or other plants.

Youngstown, which has seen its population fall by 60% since the 1960s, has even paid homeowners to relocate away from otherwise abandoned blocks so the city can shut down neighborhoods entirely, saving on sewer, sanitation, water and other services.

Back in Cleveland, big empty lots have been re-purposed into orchards, greenhouses and food production facilities, said Ford.

Entrepreneur Mansfield Frazier even founded a vineyard, called Chateau Hough after the neighborhood, on a three-quarter acre lot where a 30-unit apartment building once stood.

In 2010, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank said it would give Frazier the land if he could make a go of the vineyard within five years. He was able to claim it in three.

Excavating and planting the land was tough, though.

“Digging down, I found everything but dead bodies,” said Frazier. “I even found a kitchen sink.”

But the whole neighborhood pitched in — as did ex-cons from a nearby halfway house, who did much of the heavy work, and college professors from nearby Case Western University.

The vineyard’s impact on the neighborhood, long known for the 1966 racial riots, has been deep, said Frazer.

Chateau Hough produced its first wines last year and Frazier expects to produce about 1,000 bottles of the 2014 vintage and double that when the vines fully mature in a few more years.

Read it from the source.

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Land banks’ adaptability yields results for communities tackling vacant and problem properties, according to report (Press Release)

Cuyahoga Land Bank featured as one of seven portraits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – An estimated 120 land banks exist in the United States, and their ability to adapt to local conditions and needs is helping communities, large and small, address the negative impacts of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties, according to Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods, a new report from the Center for Community Progress. (Download the report)

While the report studies 67 land banks in total, the Cuyahoga Land Bank whose headquarters are in Cleveland, Ohio is one of only seven land banks featured in an in-depth portrait.

“What we found confirms that land banks are not one-size-fits-all,” said Kim Graziani, vice president and director of national technical assistance at the Center for Community Progress, who oversaw the research.

The report finds that local factors, such as the scale of vacancy and abandonment, influence nearly all aspects of a land bank’s operations. Land banks vary in staff size and structure, the number of properties each takes on (ranging from a handful to tens of thousands), and the strategies for maintaining those properties and returning them to productive use.

In Cuyahoga County, Ohio for example, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has balanced demolition, renovation by private investors and collaborations with other Community Development stakeholders to facilitate positive land repurposing.

While land banks have existed for more than forty years, they have rapidly grown in number since the Great Recession, with at least half of all existing land banks established in 2008 or later.

The report also draws on research to clarify what characterizes effective land banking.

“Land banks are created to benefit communities, and we found that a land bank does that most effectively when, first and foremost, it’s working with a diverse network of partners in support of the community’s goals,” explained Graziani. “That could mean basing its work on an existing land use plan, developed with resident input, or on another articulated community vision, but it almost always means that a land bank is responsive and accountable to the community it serves.”

The Cuyahoga Land Bank has worked with CDCs, social service agencies, County government, municipalities and faith based organizations to promote stable neighborhoods and human enrichment.

Other signs of effective land banking include transparency, in terms of policies, financials, and operations, as well as strategic links to the tax foreclosure process. Tax-foreclosed properties are considered an important source of land bank property acquisitions.

Even the most effective land bank, however, will still require some level of public funding, the report argues, because land banks take on properties with costly liabilities like delinquent taxes, unclear title, code violations, and severe disrepair, generally in neighborhoods with little to no responsible market activity.

In Cuyahoga County, working with the County Administration, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has been a leader in promoting best practices and policy leadership in the areas of land reuse and tax foreclosure.

The report also cautions that a land bank is not a “silver bullet.” To be successful, a land bank’s work must be connected with the community’s other ongoing efforts to prevent the cycle of blight, such as code enforcement, delinquent property tax enforcement, and community planning and development.

Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods is based on research of 67 land banks, conducted from 2013 to 2014. It includes a national scan of land banking in the United States and seven in-depth portraits of the following land banks:

  • Genesee County Land Bank Authority (Michigan)
  • Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation (Ohio)
  • Greater Syracuse Land Bank (New York)
  • Fulton County/City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority (Georgia)
  • Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority (Georgia)
  • Marquette County Land Bank Authority (Michigan)
  • Chautauqua County Land Bank Authority (New York)

Take it to the Bank: How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhoods is a deep look at land banking in the U.S. in 2014,” said Tamar Shapiro, president and CEO of the Center for Community Progress. “It showcases what’s happening, and what works, at a critical time: the number of land banks is increasing quickly, and their leaders are feeling the pressure to deliver results for communities still struggling in the wake of the Great Recession.”

Land banks, as defined in the report, are governmental entities or nonprofit corporations that take on vacant, abandoned, and other problem properties with the intention of either immediately returning those properties to productive use, or temporarily holding and maintaining the properties to stabilize distressed markets or fulfill long-term community goals.

Most land banks are created through state legislation, which typically equips land banks with special powers, such as the abilities to extinguish back property taxes and hold land tax-free. Those powers give land banks a one-of-a-kind ability to free problem properties from a state of limbo so they can be returned to productive use.

About the Center for Community Progress

Founded in 2010, the Center for Community Progress is the only national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization solely dedicated to building a future in which entrenched, systemic blight no longer exists in American communities. As a national leader on solutions for blight and vacancy, Community Progress serves as the leading resource for local, state and federal policies and best practices that address the full cycle of property revitalization, from blight prevention, through the acquisition and maintenance of problem properties, to their productive reuse. More information is available at www.communityprogress.net.

Read our press release here: Take it to the land bank Press Release

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How Land Banks Are Strengthening America’s Neighborhood’s – A New Report Featuring the Cuyahoga Land Bank by the Center for Community Progress

PR Release

Posted in Press Release

Cleveland gets noticed for bringing new life to abandoned homes, lots (Crain’s Cleveland Business)

Cleveland is doing a better job than most cities at figuring out new, more productive uses for abandoned lots and homes, according to this story from CNNMoney.com.

“In and around Cleveland, nearly 6,000 foreclosed and abandoned homes are being destroyed in an effort to save neighborhoods from blight, crime and sinking home prices,” the website says. “Instead of trying to rebuild on these properties, however, the city has been turning the empty lots into parks, greenhouses, even vineyards.”

Frank Ford, a policy adviser for the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute of Cleveland, tells CNNMoney.com, “”For the larger body — the neighborhood — to survive, you have to remove those cancer cells.”

The story notes that during the housing bust, “Ford worked at a community redevelopment group that renovated 50 foreclosed homes in Cleveland for $180,000 each. They sold the rehabbed homes for about $90,000 apiece, taking a $90,000 hit on each. If they had spent that money to demolish nine or 10 foreclosed homes instead and turned the land into green space, it would have had an immediate beneficial impact, said Ford.”

Jim Rokakis, a director at Thriving Communities, tells CNNMoney.com, “There’s a direct relationship. If there are two bad houses on a block, people will move away and their houses go vacant. Take them down and people will stay.”

The website story tells to a national audience the story of entrepreneur Mansfield Frazier, whose Chateau Hough vineyard is at East 66th Street and Hough Avenue, on a three-quarter acre lot where a 30-unit apartment building once stood.

In 2010, the story notes, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank said it would give Frazier the land if he could make a go of the vineyard within five years. He was able to claim it in three.

Excavating and planting the land was tough, though. “Digging down, I found everything but dead bodies,” Frazier tells CNNMoney.com. “I even found a kitchen sink.”

Chateau Hough “produced its first wines last year and Frazier expects to produce about 1,000 bottles of the 2014 vintage and double that when the vines fully mature in a few more years,” the story notes.

Read it from the source.

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Cleveland’s plan to destroy nearly 6,000 homes (CNN Money)

In and around Cleveland, nearly 6,000 foreclosed and abandoned homes are being destroyed in an effort to save neighborhoods from blight, crime and sinking home prices.

Instead of trying to rebuild on these properties, however, the city has been turning the empty lots into parks, greenhouses, even vineyards.

“For the larger body — the neighborhood — to survive, you have to remove those cancer cells,” said Frank Ford, a policy adviser for the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute of Cleveland.

During the housing bust, Ford worked at a community redevelopment group that renovated 50 foreclosed homes in Cleveland for $180,000 each. They sold the rehabbed homes for about $90,000 apiece, taking a $90,000 hit on each.

If they had spent that money to demolish nine or 10 foreclosed homes instead and turned the land into green space, it would have had an immediate beneficial impact, said Ford.

“There’s a direct relationship,” said Ford’s colleague Jim Rokakis, a director at Thriving Communities. “If there are two bad houses on a block, people will move away and their houses go vacant. Take them down and people will stay.”

In June 2013, Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, was granted permission to use more than $10 million of Ohio’s Hardest Hit Fund money to tear down up to 1,000 abandoned buildings.

The Hardest Hit Fund, which was established by the Treasury Department in 2010, was initially set up to back efforts that prevented foreclosures. The money could be used to lower a troubled borrower’s mortgage balance, for example.

But in cities like Cleveland, there were so many blighted, vacant homes plaguing whole neighborhoods that funds started being reallocated toward demolition instead.

Tearing down houses has been so effective in Cleveland, that last month Cuyahoga County issued a $50 million bond so it can demolish another 5,000 houses, said Rokakis.

The house cleaning extends beyond Cleveland.

Michigan is using $175 million in Hardest Hit Fund money to demolish homes across 16 cities, including Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids. In Detroit alone, where there are about 80,000 abandoned properties, 250 homes are being demolished a week.

Gary, Ind., is using $6.6 million in Hardest Hit funds to demolish 700 of its 8,000 vacant homes and buildings. Meanwhile, long suffering Youngstown, Ohio, is spending Treasury money to knock down a few hundred of its 4,000 vacant buildings, according to Councilman John R. Swierz.

Many of the emptied lots will be offered to neighbors who agree to maintain the properties. Others will be planted with trees or other plants.

Youngstown, which has seen its population fall by 60% since the 1960s, has even paid homeowners to relocate away from otherwise abandoned blocks so the city can shut down neighborhoods entirely, saving on sewer, sanitation, water and other services.

Back in Cleveland, big empty lots have been re-purposed into orchards, greenhouses and food production facilities, said Ford.

Entrepreneur Mansfield Frazier even founded a vineyard, called Chateau Hough after the neighborhood, on a three-quarter acre lot where a 30-unit apartment building once stood.

In 2010, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank said it would give Frazier the land if he could make a go of the vineyard within five years. He was able to claim it in three.

Excavating and planting the land was tough, though.

“Digging down, I found everything but dead bodies,” said Frazier. “I even found a kitchen sink.”

But the whole neighborhood pitched in — as did ex-cons from a nearby halfway house, who did much of the heavy work, and college professors from nearby Case Western University.

The vineyard’s impact on the neighborhood, long known for the 1966 racial riots, has been deep, said Frazer.

Chateau Hough produced its first wines last year and Frazier expects to produce about 1,000 bottles of the 2014 vintage and double that when the vines fully mature in a few more years.

Read it from the source.

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Did You Know?

The Cuyahoga Land Bank recently partnered with Cleveland State University to host a graduate student from the Marshall College of Law and Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs. Graduate student, Ben Scott joined the Cuyahoga Land Bank this past summer and will be with the team through December 2014. He is in his third year of the joint law and planning degree JD/MUPDD program. Ben has lived in Cleveland for the past ten years and previously worked for the Cleveland Indians marketing department. This past summer, Ben got married and has his first child on the way! Ben’s intern work at the Cuyahoga Land Bank focuses on legal and policy research, document drafting, CDC pass through agreements, and Property Profile System management.

 

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Posted in 2014.11.1, Didja Know?

Cuyahoga County now the ‘gold standard’ for abandoned property reclamation (Freshwater Cleveland)

Some of the most significant strides in Cleveland’s renaissance come from the quietest corners, where people with rolled sleeves toil behind desks, taking on daunting challenges. While their accomplishments aren’t often regaled with flashy grand openings and popping champagne corks, their impact is unmistakable.

Hence, when the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp (or more commonly, the Cuyahoga Land Bank) quietly celebrated the passage of Senate Bill 172 earlier this month, few noticed. The legislation, which was authored by Douglas Sawyer, special projects and policy counsel for the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Gus Frangos, the organization’s president and general council, is an important link in an ongoing effort that has catapulted Cuyahoga County from the infamous “ground zero” of the foreclosure crisis to a nationally recognized pioneer in expediting and processing vacant and abandoned property.

“Cuyahoga County is considered the gold standard,” says Sawyer of the county’s reputation as a leader in the area of abandoned property reclamation. “It’s really a credit to the city and county. All of the different players realized how big the problem was here and have come together to try and tackle these problems.”

SB 172 improves and streamlines processes previously established in House Bill 294 (2006). That legislation included a nationally groundbreaking alternative to the traditional judicial tax foreclosure process for abandoned properties: the administrative tax foreclosure hearing. The administrative process, performed by the Cuyahoga County Board of Revision, takes between six and 12 months, whereas the customary judicial process can go on for one or two years. Once a property is foreclosed, it is essentially cleansed of delinquent taxes and other financial encumbrances, and can make its way into “someone’s hands that can do some thing good with it” by way of the land bank, says Sawyer.

The original 2006 legislation, however, allowed for any number of entities such as lien holders or banks to “move to dismiss”—essentially putting the kibosh on an administrative foreclosure—and sending the case back to the judicial system completely anew.

“That’s not good,” says Sawyer, noting that the county invests much preparation, due diligence and funding (approximately $1,500) into each administrative foreclosure case. SB 172 saves all of that, allowing the case to remain intact and simply transfer into the court system along with all the associated documentation.

Sawyer describes another thing he likes about SB 172. The legislation removes the obligation for a local municipality, county or county land bank to obtain permission from owners of properties that have been forfeited to the state–who are often difficult (if not impossible) to find–in order to assess those properties. He cites the tiny Village of Glenwillow.

“Glenwillow is getting onto a property that was forfeited to the state,” says Sawyer. “They’re doing some environmental testing and as long as there’s not something really really bad on it, they’ll pull it from the forfeiture list through our land bank and they’re going to do some good things on the property.” Without SB 172, he adds, “they wouldn’t have any ability to do that.”

Since its inception in 2009, the Cuyahoga Lank Bank has transacted 4,600 properties, demolished 2,960 and facilitated the renovations of 980. It currently holds title to 1,330 properties.

“We are really one of the leaders,” says Sawyer. “If you want to be doing this kind of work, this is a great place to be doing it. This is the cutting edge.”

Read it from the source.

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Posted in Land Bank Coverage

Conference looks at ways to revive Cuyahoga County housing market: Plain Dealing (The Plain Dealer)

Mayors and planners from around Cuyahoga County will explore what the county can do to rejuvenate its housing market at the 25th Ohio Fair Lending and Vital Communities Conference.

The theme of this year’s conference is “The First 100 Days – a Vision for Change in Cuyahoga County.”

The free event takes place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs, 2121 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

Panels will lay out recommendations on what the county’s incoming administration can do to improve the housing market by creating a comprehensive county housing policy, establishing a foreclosure response office and making sure the $50 million demolition bond fund is used effectively.

Presenters include the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Vice President Paul Kaboth; Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers; Lakewood Mayor Mike Summers; Euclid Mayor Bill Cervenik; East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton; Cleveland council member Tony Brancatelli; Cuyahoga Land Bank COO Bill Whitney and Northeast Ohio Media Group editorial writer Chris Evans.

The conference, which includes lunch, is free for everyone except attorneys. They’ll need to pay $50 to snag the four CLE credits. To register, call 216-651-2606 or visithttp://organizeohio.org/fair-lending-coalition.html

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A County Melting Pot

Inside, the Cuyahoga Land Bank staff consists of a diverse group of professionals at all levels.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank’s largest operational expenditure is attributed to the cost of demolition and related demolition charges.  Of the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s 30 plus demolition contractors, over 40% are a Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) or a Female Business Enterprise (FBE).  Of the contract dollars expended, over 50% of demolition dollars were awarded to MBE/FBE contractoLand Bank Staff rs in 2014.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank does not impose hard and fast rules on minority participation.  Rather, the Cuyahoga Land Bank bids work out and selects the lowest and best contractors.  Many smaller MBE/FBE contractors are able to participate with the Cuyahoga Land Bank because of the clear standards and bidding procedures.  If the standards are understood and complied with, the Cuyahoga Land Bank provides a quick turn-around and payment of a contractor’s invoice.  This is crucial to smaller enterprises.
Another reason for the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s success is that the Land Bank holds routine training and development seminars to assist contractors in compliance with and understanding of the Land Bank’s paperwork, procurement and quality standards.  “When these things are clearly explained and understood, MBE/FBE participation happens naturally,” said Cheryl Stephens, Director of Acquisition, Development and Disposition.  “We demand quality work, and we give contractors guidance and training so that they can meet our requirements,” she added.
And, as you might suspect, the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s work with outside partners and agencies throughout the County include all ethnicities, races and geographies.
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Posted in 2014.11.1, Newsletter

Fun Fact

The Cuyahoga Land Bank works hard to maintain all of the properties in their portfolio.  The summer and spring are one of the busiest season for the field service crews. Over this past season, the Cuyahoga Land Bank maintained 1,604 properties and cut a total of 17,008 lawns! In order to maintain each property a field service visit occurs at least twice a month to assure that the building is secure, the grass is cut and all debris are removed. The Program and Property Management department helps keep property maintenance on schedule and properties properly maintained with the help of our Property Profile System(PPS). Our PPS database allows us to track inventory, property maintenance, and project management.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank Team works together to successfully manage our properties and reach these numbers!

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Posted in 2014.11.1, Fun Fact!

2014 Ohio Land Bank Conference

This year’s Ohio Land Bank Conference hosted by The Thriving Communities Institute saw an ever increasing number of participants.  The conference was a success, and is a testament to the increase in “land banking” throughout the State. The conference is a platform for Land Banks to learn from each other in order to better achieve their mission. The Cuyahoga Land Bank has become a prominent leader in Land Bank best practices and this conference it the opportunity to feature it’s work.  This year’s conference topics have evolved from the basic functions of a Land Bank Conference Land Bank (including demolition and renovation) to focusing on redevelopment and strategic programing to help reimagine our communities. The Cuyahoga Land Bank addressed the importance of fine tuning the essential functions of a Land Bank through presentations on “Land Banks 101” and “The Basics of Demolition,” presented by the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s Director of Acquisitions, Dispositions and Development, Cheryl Stephens.  The conference also focused on advanced practices ranging from vacant land reuse, and programing for reuse of green space and the importance of utilizing funding streams to achieve neighborhood-focused redevelopment.
The land reuse presentation offered the Cuyahoga Land Bank the chance to share its success stories and lessons.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank Manager of Special Projects and Land Reuse, Lilah Zautner and Mahoning County Land Bank Executive Director, Debora Flora painted a picture of how various creative green space reimagining projects have effectively capitalized on vacant space to create a positive impact. This presentation offered other Land Banks the knowledge to launch greening projects in their own communities.Land Bank Conference Sponsors
“Reimagining the urban space sometimes means trying something and seeing why it doesn’t work,” said Zautner.  “Through practice, we’ve learned that the most successful projects provide a reason for the community to remain invested and require minimal maintenance.”
Collaboration was an important theme at the conference.  Cuyahoga Land Bank President and General Counsel, Gus Frangos shared the stage with City of South Euclid Housing Manager, Sally Martin and Thriving Communities Senior Policy Advisor, Frank Ford to discuss the positive outcomes of The Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council (VAPAC). The VAPAC group brings together government representatives, stakeholders and practitioners to help show participating agencies the bigger picture. The group shares insights and observations, and capitalizes on the collective knowledge at the table. By bringing everyone together, VAPAC has been able to identify overarching issues and trends, encourage a uniform approach to policy and obtain recognition as the respected voice on foreclosure and vacancy issues.
“Through VAPAC, we have been able to bring together people from a variety of perspectives in order to create effective policy because we are now speaking the same language,” Frangos said.
The Thriving Communities Institute has created a successful conference that has given Ohio Land Banks the opportunity to establish, build or improve their daily operations.  Thanks to all of the conference sponsors, the event was a success.  We hope to see everyone at the conference in 2015!

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Posted in 2014.11.1, Newsletter

HUD, Cuyahoga Land Bank Renew Agreement – The Only One of its Kind in the US (Press Release)

In 2010, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, commonly known as the Cuyahoga Land Bank, came to a groundbreaking agreement: HUD would transfer low-value, vacant and abandoned properties to the Cuyahoga Land Bank for $100.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank is proud to announce that for the fourth time HUD has agreed to once again renew the annual agreement, which is the only one of its kind in the country.

“We are excited that HUD has chosen to continue their relationships with us,” said Cuyahoga Land Bank President Gus Frangos.  “It means that we have been able to demonstrate a positive impact and that HUD continues to believe in the value of working with us to eliminate blight in our community.”

The properties that the Cuyahoga Land Bank acquires from HUD are lower-value properties appraised at $20,000 or below.  Such properties come under the ownership of HUD as a result of mortgage foreclosures guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

The partnership between HUD and the Cuyahoga Land Bank continues to be essential to the stabilization of the real estate market and the rejuvenation of Cuyahoga County’s neighborhoods through the repurposing of distressed properties, which often perpetuate the cycle of tax foreclosure and abandonment, from the speculator market.

Under the renewed agreement, HUD will continue to transfer HUD-owned properties in Cuyahoga County valued at under $20,000 to the Cuyahoga Land Bank for $100 after paying all current taxes.  Once acquired, the Cuyahoga Land Bank evaluates all properties, demolishes those that are beyond repair and preserves those homes that can be renovated.

Properties deemed eligible for renovation are available to private rehabbers that agree to meet the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s Housing Standards. To enforce these standards, the Cuyahoga Land Bank retains title to privately rehabbed homes until a final, satisfactory inspection of the renovation.

“At the Cuyahoga Land Bank, we understand that the impacts of the foreclosure crisis are too big to combat alone.  We must leverage partnerships and work together to stabilize and reimagine our communities,” said Frangos.  “The HUD agreement allows us to efficiently property and we are grateful to have the opportunity to continue the partnership.”

To date, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has acquired approximately 4,350 properties overall and has demolished nearly 2,800 properties.  More than 1,700 of the vacant lots created by demolition have been transferred to city land banks for neighborhood side yard expansions, community gardens, and economic development opportunities.  Additionally, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has also successfully facilitated the renovation of nearly 925 properties by private owners, using private dollars.

Read our HUD-agreement-renewal-release.

Posted in Press Release

Cuyahoga Land Bank achieves policy with the passage of SB 172 (Press Release)

The Cuyahoga Land Bank is not only innovative and effective for fighting blight and restoring properties, it also plays an important role in policy and advocacy at the state and federal level.  Cuyahoga Land Bank president Gus Frangos and Land Bank staff attorney Doug Sawyer wrote and advocated for the recent passage of Senate Bill (SB) 172 which enacts a number of amendments to SB 353, which authorized the establishment of county land banks in Ohio and was drafted by Frangos in 2009.

 

SB 172 enhances the ability of the courts, boards of revision, land banks and other governmental agencies to remove and repurpose blighted, vacant and abandoned properties more efficiently.  The bill was sponsored by Senator Tom Patton, who was also the chief sponsor of SB 353 in 2009.

 

Ohio’s County Land Bank Legislation is considered the gold standard nationwide in the eyes of many practitioners.  SB 353 has proven to be useful for urban centers and rural counties alike.  “The amendments in SB 172 will further enhance this extraordinary land banking tool,” said Frangos.

 

Frangos and Sawyer worked with the Ohio Legislative Services Commission to craft the bill and then successfully obtained bi-partisan support for its passage.  Both were present at the bill’s signing with Governor John Kasich in June, 2014.

 

The passage of SB 172 is the latest success in the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s policy leadership.  Cuyahoga Land Bank staff continue to be the “go-to” for best practices, research and transactional expertise.

 

Sawyer said, “The intent of our advocacy efforts is to have a positive impact not only in Cuyahoga County, but also nationally as communities around the country face similar challenges.”

Read our SB 172 release

Posted in Press Release

Cuyahoga County’s $50 million demolition plan looking to impact communities (News-Herald)

“What we do today is not the end of the process, it’s really the beginning,” said Cuyahoga County Councilman Pernel Jones, shortly before council members voted to approve a plan to make $50 million available for demolition projects in the county.
“We are putting our money where our mouth is,” he said, calling the county the nation’s foreclosure capital. “We should not let this opportunity pass to take the first step.”
Jones asked for full support from council on the program, and after months of debate and despite differences of opinion and philosophy, the council members unanimously approved the plan.

Shrinking the gap
Nate Kelly, Cuyahoga County’s deputy chief of staff of development, previously told The News-Herald that there are about 12,000 vacant and distressed properties in the county.
The $50 million plan will not remove all the blighted properties in the county. Jones said Oct. 28 estimates could be up to $300 million for total removal.
County Research and Policy Analyst Kahlil Seren said in September with “a swift, impactful push on demolitions, we may be able to shrink the gap.”
Blighted properties, Kelly said, affect property values and discourage reinvestment in the community. Nuisance properties also come with crime and other health and safety concerns. The outer-ring suburb Richmond Heights, for example, has seen an increase in break-ins this year, mostly in vacant homes, where copper pipes have been stolen.
The plan passed by County Council in October had been discussed for months, with several tweaks and amendments made along the way.
In the months leading up to the passage, county council members debated among themselves the past course of action of how to distribute the $50 million. They also heard from leaders throughout the county, ranging from mayors to city council members to housing directors.

The plan
Of the $50 million, $41 million will be available to municipalities in the county through a noncompetitive bid process. The other $9 million in funding will go to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank through three one-time allocations.
The funding will be available to the municipalities in rounds. In the first round, municipalities can apply for up $1 million for projects, with no more than $100,000 being awarded for any individual structure.
Municipalities can apply for a subsequent round of funding only after taking “all legal actions necessary to enable demolition” of at least 80 percent of the structures approved for demolition.
The maximum amount allocated per applicant may change in subsequent rounds, but will not exceed $2 million.
In order to receive funding, the municipalities will have to meet the following qualifications:
• Sufficiently identifying a “target area, neighborhood typological priorities, or spot demolition site(s) containing a demonstrable need for demolition.”
• Whether the “structures identified by the applicant for demolition have been certified as vacant, abandoned, and nuisance or blighted.”
• Whether the applicant has “sufficient capacity to administer the demolition, or intends to engage an agent such as the Land Bank to administer demolition on its behalf.”
• Whether the actions proposed in the application are “designed to assist in carrying out a plan developed by the applicant to improve housing quality or strengthen the housing market in the applicant’s municipality.”
The municipalities also will need to commit to take all legal action necessary to enable demolition and abide by minimum demolition and property maintenance standards established by the Department of Development. They also will have to commit to place a lien on all properties where the demolitions will occur, except for properties owned by the municipality or the Land Bank. The municipalities also must commit to competitively bid all demolition contracts and refrain from any action that may adversely affect the tax-exempt status of any bonds issued by the county to fund the property demolition program.
The funds will be available in either grants or zero-interest loans, through an amendment made by Councilman Dave Greenspan. Applicants who choose the zero-interest loan will be eligible to receive a grant equal to 50 percent of the principal amount of the original loan after the loan is paid off.
Greenspan said he does not expect to see cities take advantage of the loan option until almost all of the $50 million is used, however.
“Because then at that point they’ll have realized they have a greater need and there’s money available and they would opt to exercise a loan option to receive a grant that helps to supplement  their operations and activities as it relates to this issue,” he said.
Unlike the municipalities, the Land Bank will not need to submit applications to receive its three $3 million allocations. The individual demolition projects funded through this allocation will be subject to the approval of the Land Bank’s director of development. The Land Bank will start receiving its funding in 2015.

‘Smaller need, no less important’
All of the municipalities will have the opportunity to apply for the maximum of $1 million in the first round of funding, despite requests from representatives from Cleveland that some of the inner-ring suburbs to receive a larger cut of the money.
In September, Councilwoman Sunny Simon said the county isn’t in a position to score each individual community’s needs. A certain home, she said, might be “cataclysmically bad” to a small community, but not as bad for another community.
“A small amount of demos could go a long way in South Euclid or Euclid or even Westlake or Strongsville if there’s a bad area that needs to be enhanced,” she said. “I don’t think we can score this the way we do otherwise.”
Kelly agrees, calling it a “strategic use” of the funds. He said a community with a smaller need does not mean its need is no less important. A community like Shaker Heights, he said, may have a need for demolition as well. The demolition of a few properties there could have a “tremendous impact” on the city.
“It’s going to take more properties in Cleveland to make the same kind of impact,” he said.
Kelly said Cleveland and the communities in the Broadway Corridor have the greatest need and he expects a lot of applications and execution of projects in those areas.
The communities with greater need will have future rounds to apply for, something communities with smaller problems might not need.

What’s next?
After doing a final review of the passed legislation, Kelly said there will be a meeting Nov. 12 with all 59 municipalities in the county to discuss the plan.
At that time, the communities will have the opportunity to give any additional feedback on the application and process before the applications go out.
The hope, Kelly said, is to have the applications sent out before the end of the year, but he is unsure when the funds will be distributed. He said it depends on how quickly the communities make their requests, but adds they are eager to get the program started.
Area representatives said they plan on attending to get a better understanding of how the funding process will work as well as what they can and can’t do with the funds.
“We’ll certainly do what we can to be included in those funds,” said Christel Best, economic development director for Richmond Heights.
Richmond Heights approved an agreement over the summer to work with the Land Bank. The Land Bank is helping the city with the remediation of a vacant gas station at 26102 Chardon Road.
The city identified five nuisance properties and Best said they have a few others on a watch list.  The city is still unsure of whether demolition or rehab is the best course of action on those properties.
“It’s a question of what makes the most sense,” she said.
Euclid Director of Planning & Development Jonathan Holody, who attended some of the council meetings where the demolition plan was discussed, said the city has started to look into which properties it will apply to demolish. He said he could not give specifics, but the city is looking to have both residential and commercial properties demolished through the program.
“The program council passed has a good amount of flexibility, which is a good thing,” Holody said. “As a new program, there’s going to be details that need working out,” Holody said. “We’re looking forward to working with them to understand and take advantage the best we can.

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Ohio Land Bank Conference | County Melting Pot – Cuyahoga Land Bank News – 2014.11.1

Newsletter to Blog 11.1

Posted in 2014.11.1, Newsletter

$50M demolition fund passes Cuyahoga County Council unanimously (Cleveland Magazine Politics)

Cuyahoga County will soon give cities tens of millions of dollars to tear down blighted buildings. A $50 million bond issue for demolition, debated all year, passed the county council unanimously last night.

The aggressive action addresses one of Cleveland’s most urgent and overwhelming problems. Many city neighborhoods are still scarred by abandoned homes from the recession and foreclosure crisis.

“No one has done anything as ambitious in this nation as $50 million,” said councilman Pernel Jones, a strong supporter of the legislation.

The vote, seven days before Election Day, gave county executive Ed FitzGerald a new accomplishment in the last days of his run for governor. It also affected the race to replace FitzGerald. Jack Schron, the county councilman who’s the Republican candidate for county executive, voted for the demolition plan, even though his attempts to amend it failed.

The council’s Republicans and Democrats ironed out their differences about the demolition program by approving 11th-hour amendments.

The council adopted Republican Dave Greenspan’s idea of letting cities apply for a grant or a loan. The idea is to stretch out the $50 million bond issue, which isn’t nearly enough to demolish the area’s estimated 20,000 abandoned homes. If cities go for a loan, they’ll get a grant of half the loaned money when they pay it back. Cities are expected to apply for grants at first, then loans as the fund dwindles.

Schron’s amendment lost 9-2. He wanted to make the grants competitive and establish an independent review committee to make the awards.

“If we don’t change this, that means the county executive, whoever that’ll be, will be making the determination of how the money will be utilized,” Schron said. But council went instead for Pernel Jones’ amendment, which says council intends to create a committee to oversee the program.

Schron dropped his earlier idea of favoring demolition applications for land with high development interest. The county’s bond counsel advised that restrictions on the use of sales tax bonds prevented it.

Schron’s vote for the final legislation prevents his opponent in the executive race, Democrat Armond Budish, from making demolition a defining issue a week before the election. Budish has said he “strongly supports” the program.

FitzGerald adopted the $50 million demolition proposal in his February State of the County address. (Former county treasurer Jim Rokakis had promoted it for years before.) At the meeting’s end, Democratic councilwoman Sunny Simon praised FitzGerald’s leadership on the issue. Her remarks contrasted with complaints two weeks ago from Greenspan and council president Ellen Connally, who said FitzGerald had offered a vague proposal and left the details to council.

The county will borrow the $50 million and pay it back over several years — despite concerns that county is already borrowing heavily to finance projects such as the convention center hotel.

The county council went forward despite complaints from Cleveland city councilmen Zack Reed and Jeff Johnson that favoring demolition over rehabilitation might hurt the historic character of their neighborhoods. County councilwoman Yvonne Conwell argued two weeks ago that some of the money should go to rehabbing houses, but she also dropped her idea on the advice of the bond counsel.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank will get $9 million to demolish properties it owns. Cities will be able to apply for up to $1 million in the first round of funding and possibly $2 million in later rounds. Every city that shows a need will get an award. Once a city uses 80 percent of the award, it can come back for more.

Under that system, most suburbs will get the money to demolish all their eligible blighted buildings in the first round. The cities with the greatest need — Cleveland and East Cleveland, and perhaps a couple more inner-ring suburbs – will come back for many later rounds.

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City’s vacant lots, properties may soon become history (Philadelphia Tribune)

The Philadelphia Land Bank — tasked with transforming tax-delinquent and vacant lots and properties into viable community spaces and for–development tracts — is awaiting final act on legislation that would give the group full authority to continue its work and officially launch in 2015.

“City Council passed legislation [authorizing the land bank] last fall, and the mayor signed it almost immediately afterward,” said Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority Deputy Executive Director John Carpenter. “From before that time until now, we’ve had people working inside the administration to build the land bank and think through some of the administrative structures that the land bank needs to work with.”

Carpenter, Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation Executive Vice President Michael Koonce and Office of Housing and Community Development Director of Communications Paul D. Chrystie spoke with The Tribune editorial board about the and bank authorization bill and to discuss the land bank’s progress so far.

Carpenter said city ordinance required the land bank to complete a strategic plan that outlines market conditions and needs in the city’s neighborhoods as it relates to market–rate housing, affordable housing, economic development and green space development.

That plan is now in draft and is in the hands of the land bank’s board. It will then send the plan to council. Carpenter wants to see council approve the plan so the land bank can better prepare for operation in 2015.

Council should receive the plan in the next two weeks.

The plan — which is currently a draft mode, but viewable online at www.philadelphialandbank.org — is a comprehensive blueprint that, when implemented, will improve the quality of life in every neighborhood in Philadelphia. Through targeted strategies that address side yards, community gardens, affordable housing, private investment and other goals, this plan offers a road map for returning vacant and tax delinquent properties to productive reuse through an expedited, more transparent process.

There are currently 9,000 lots or vacant properties under the land bank’s purview; land bank executives hope to make the process easier for community groups to obtain lots and properties to convert them to community gardens or something similar.

“The land bank has the ability to acquire property with enabling legislation that allows us to go to a tax foreclosure sale to acquire property,” Koonce said. “The main purpose of the land bank is that developers, gardeners and community organization wouldn’t have to go to three separate organizations to acquire public property,” Koonce said. “The land bank has ability to deep out properties and have one transparent disposition process. It streamlines the process.”

This way, Koonce said, the land bank would more efficiently deed out its properties and led to a better maintenance of the properties the land bank has.

There are roughly 9,000 vacant properties in the public inventory that are not committed to a pending project. The land bank also identified an additional 24,000 privately-owned properties that are both vacant and tax delinquent. In total, there are an estimated 32,000 potential Land Bank properties. Of the 32,000, roughly 23,000 are individual lots, and roughly 9,000 are vacant buildings.

The land bank plan also deals with the more than 70 commercial corridors in the city, and will work to enhance economic development for shop owners adjacent to or near these abandoned lots and properties.

The plan also has built-in protections for longtime occupants and seniors on a fixed income; Carpenter said these built-in protections will also curb gentrification.

“We are going to look at existing community plans that have already been developed by the city planning commission,” Koonce said. “If that plan calls for a certain amount gardens or playgrounds or maybe there’s a need for day cares, we are going to especially consider those.”

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Steel Valley school board ponders land bank (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Steel Valley school board heard a presentation about land banks by Ann Lewis, executive director of Steel Valley Council of Governments, at Monday’s workshop meeting.

Lloyd Cunningham, Homestead council president, and Kyle Thauvette, West Homestead manager, also came to the meeting.

Ms. Lewis said the district has a population of 16,500, 8,700 housing units, 517 properties in poor, very poor or unsound condition, and about 1,334 households that are chronically tax delinquent.

Police and fire calls are also much more frequent to blighted properties, she said, creating added expense for municipalities.

Ms. Lewis said the value of properties within a 150-foot circle of blighted properties decreases by 15 percent.

In a handout, she estimated that the district loses $179,500 in real estate taxes from tax delinquent and blighted properties, and $104,471 in real estate taxes from vacant lots.

A land bank can acquire properties, renovate them and get them back on the tax rolls, she said.

The land bank legislation allows Allegheny County, school districts and municipalities to share their real estate taxes 50/50 with the land bank for the first five years after a property is back on the tax rolls, she said.

However, she said the amount of money wasn’t enough to obtain properties, bring them up to code, do any additional renovations and maintain the properties until sale.

The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, a very successful land bank, added another source of revenue, she said.

Ms. Lewis asked the school board to consider giving the land bank 5 percent of the delinquent real estate taxes collected the previous year. People involved with the land bank calculated that would allow it to cover expenses and grow, she said.

Superintendent Ed Wehrer spoke of a dilapidated apartment building next to Barrett Elementary School that he would like to be removed. School officials talked about how to get rid of it — by using the land bank or by condemnation — and whether implosion would be safe as a method of removing it with asbestos inside.

During the workshop meeting Monday night, Dennis Keesecker, director of buildings and grounds, also gave a presentation on a steel building he wants to buy to store district maintenance trucks, paper records and other items.

A 40-by-60-foot building would cost $52.80 per square foot, and a 50-by-75-foot building would cost $47.60 per square foot, he said.

The board had been considering buying the former Munhall No. 3 Firehall building for storage.

School officials said the firehall is not up to code and doesn’t have a restroom.

President Donna Kiefer, referring to the firehall, said she didn’t want “someone else’s garbage.”

“It just seemed that [the firehall] being off campus, it didn’t fit the bill for what we need,” Mr. Wehrer said.

School Director Mike Terrick said he wanted to speak to fire department officials about a possible purchase, which might cost half as much as the proposed $180,000 steel building.

“I will not put that kind of money out for a steel building,” Mrs. Kiefer said.

The matter was tabled and will not be on tonight’s agenda, she said.

Teachers will meet with the district in early November for another negotiation session, district solicitor Donald Fetzko said. They have been working without a contract since the third week of August.

The district has met with the teachers six to eight times already, he said. Mr. Fetzko said he doesn’t want to comment on the progress of negotiations now.

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Cuyahoga County Council OKs $50M building demolition plan (The News-Herald)

After months of discussion and a few last minute amendments, Cuyahoga County Council has approved a plan to make $50 million for demolition of both residential and commercial structures.

Municipalities in the county will be able to apply for $41 million of that money, with the other $9 million being allocated to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.

The money will be handed out to municipalities in rounds. Municipalities can apply for up to $1 million in the first round of funding, while up to $2 million could be awarded in subsequent rounds. No more than $100,000 shall be awarded for the demolition of any individual structure, though some council members have said they would like to see that number bumped up to $200,000.

Municipalities can apply for a subsequent round of funding only after taking “all legal actions necessary to enable demolition” of at least 80 percent of the structures approved for demolition.

The funds will be equally available to all the municipalities in the county, despite previous attempts from representatives from Cleveland and inner-ring suburbs to receive a larger percentage of that funding.

Council approved Councilman David Greenspan’s amendment to give municipalities the option to receive funding in the form of a no-interest loan as opposed to a grant. Applicants who choose to go this route will be eligible to receive a grant equal to 50 percent of the principal amount of the original loan after the loan is paid off.

Greenspan’s plan called for the these grants to come out of the general fund, but Councilwoman Sunny Simon made an amendment to create a revolving loan fund to receive any principle loan repayments, which would then be used to payout the grants. Simon’s amendment was approved.

At a previous meeting regarding demolition funding, Cleveland City Council members urged the County Council to consider allocating some the funding for rehabilitation. County Councilwoman Yvonne M. Conwell had also expressed an interest in allocating some funds for rehabbing properties, but she said the bond council issued a legal opinion stating that it could not be done through this plan.

“Hopefully going forward with the committee process we can talk about other things in regards to (rehab) and especially a housing plan for Cuyahoga County,” Conwell said.

Councilman Pernel Jones said nobody in the country has attempted a demolition plan this ambitious.

“I always say legislation is organic,” Jones said. “What we do today is not the end of the process, it’s really the beginning.”

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Cuyahoga County Council expected to approve $50 million for demolitions (Cleveland.com)

Cuyahoga County Council tonight is expected to approve a long-discussed plan to borrow $50 million to pay for vacant property demolitions.

The demolition plan, originally proposed by County Executive Ed FitzGerald in February, would make available up to $1 million per city, village or township to knock down vacant buildings.

If there’s still money left over after an initial round of funding, communities can apply to receive up to an additional $2 million each.

It would also send $3 million to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, the semi-public nonprofit, to tear down the buildings it owns throughout the county.

Cleveland, which has more vacant buildings than any other local community, haspushed for a larger share of the money. It would cost $120 million to knock down all the vacant, condemned buildings in the city alone.

Officials from inner-ring suburbs have also jockeyed for a larger share.

Council is also expected to approve legislation to create a new department of sustainability. The plan, introduced by councilwoman Sunny Simon, would promote ‘green’ efforts, including helping residents making green modifications to their home.

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Millions for demolition within reach for Cleveland and inner-ring suburbs (Cleveland.com)

 If Cuyahoga County Council approves a plan Tuesday to borrow $50 million for the demolition of vacant buildings, some of the region’s most blighted communities could see demolition crews within a month.

But limits on how much money each community can receive per application cycle could bog down the process for the hardest hit of all – Cleveland.

The city is home to more than 6,000 condemned, wrecking-ball ready structures. If County Council green lights the long-awaited bond issue, Cleveland would be ready to roll immediately with its list of highest-priority properties, City Council President Kevin Kelley said in an interview Friday.

“We need this so badly,” Kelley said. “We’re really looking forward to finally bringing relief to those neighborhoods that have been dealing with these abandoned homes for far too long.”

The proposed plan, however, dictates that each city, village or township can only apply for up to $1 million for the first round of funding. If there’s still money left over, communities can request an additional $2 million.

Cleveland, with as many as 12,000 abandoned buildings and entire streets that are virtually uninhabited, would need about $120 million to completely meet the city’s demolition needs.

“It could be problematic if Cleveland has to come back every week with another application,” said Jim Rokakis, director of the Thriving Communities Institute. The agency has helped leverage grants for demolition by sponsoring studies aimed at demonstrating the power of inner-city blight to destroy the urban real estate market and shift the tax burden on suburbanites.

City officials have joined mayors from the county’s 18 inner-ring suburbs in unsuccessfully jockeying for a larger share.

City Councilman Tony Brancatelli said he has been reassured that the county will accept applications on a rolling basis. Cleveland will be allowed to apply for more money after it spends 80 percent of its last allocation, rather than being forced to wait each round for other cities to get their portion, he said.

The city’s Vacant Property Task Force already has done the hard work of surveying and cueing up properties for demolition, he said. And a provision in the proposal carving out $3 million for each of the next three years for the Cuyahoga Land Bank bodes well for Cleveland. The land bank takes in between 80 and 100 vacant properties a month, many of them in the city.

Brancatelli acknowledged that submitting an application every other week for a sliver of the funds could become cumbersome.

“But I won’t have much anxiety, as long as the county performs and the process is timely,” he said.

So far, getting the legislation to a vote has been anything but.

County Executive Ed FitzGerald first announced the plan in his state of the county address in February. In April, he introduced legislation that created a property demolition fund but included few details.

Council, with the help of administration staff, has been fleshing out the specifics since then.

At County Council’s last meeting earlier this month, members continued to quibble over details of the plan.

Councilman Jack Schron, a Republican running for county executive, repeated concerns that council is “putting the cart before the horse” by not developing a more detailed strategy before borrowing the money.

He said the plan should require communities to submit proposals that are scored on a competitive basis.

Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, a Democrat, said some of the money should be set aside to rehabilitate some houses.

Councilman Dave Greenspan, a Republican has proposed an alternative plan that would convert the program from a series of grants to zero-interest loans.

The communities that get the money could use increased tax revenues drawn from increased property values to repay the money, he has said. If the communities don’t see an improvement, the loans would be forgiven.

Cleveland officials and Rokakis say that Greenspan’s plan wrongly assumes that investing in the demolition program will bear an immediate return, when many neighborhoods are so ravaged by blight that it could take decades before property values rise.

“I appreciate his creativity,” Rokakis said. “But you can’t always be looking for an immediate return. This will change the quality of life for a lot of people in town. Sometimes you can’t put a Republican or Democratic spin on legislation. It’s just the right thing to do. Period.”

Read it from the source.

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Cuyahoga Land Bank

The mission of the Cuyahoga Land Bank is to strategically acquire properties, return them to productive use, reduce blight, increase property values, support community goals and improve the quality of life for county residents.

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