Ohio Land Bank Conference | West Creek Land Conservancy – 2015.11.2

NL 11.2.15

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On November 23, 2015, the Cuyahoga Land Bank began the first major commercial demolition utilizing County Demolition Program funds at 3393 Warrensville Center Road in Shaker Heights.  The buildings had been shuttered for many years and are now owned by the City of Shaker Heights.  The cleared land will serve as a site for future commercial development.


“In the last several years, demolition funds have been reserved primarily for abandoned and decayed residential structures,” explained Gus Frangos, President of the Cuyahoga Land Bank.  “Because of the large cost generally associated with commercial demolition, abandoned structures like this have often festered for decades. Access to County Demolition Program funds is making it possible to take on more major commercial demolition and pave the way for redevelopment.”


In spring of 2015, County Executive Armond Budish and the County Council jump‐started the County Demolition Program by establishing application guidelines and standards for cities throughout the County. Soon after, the County’s $50 million dollar blight elimination program began accepting applications for demolition of vacant and abandoned buildings. Known as the County Demolition Program, it is the first major funding source to authorize demolition of larger commercial buildings.


The County Demolition Program authorizes up to $100,000 for commercial demolition projects.  In addition to sheer size as a contributing factor, many large commercial buildings have significant environmental problems that increase demolition costs and make these projects more challenging to take on.


“Mayors across the County have been very enthusiastic about the County Council and Administration’s commitment to this program,” said Frangos.  “We are excited to have the opportunity to help cities accomplish their commercial demolition and redevelopment goals by administering the Program.”


“This is a huge benefit to communities struggling with a strategy to demolish expensive and blighted commercial buildings,” said James Rokakis, Executive Director of Thriving Communities Institute in Cleveland, Ohio.

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East Cleveland duplex now permanent housing for veterans (Freshwater Cleveland)

While social media bloomed with kind words for veterans last week, a project that truly gives back to those who have sacrificed so much was quietly taking shape in a duplex in East Cleveland.

Previously vacant, the house is now home to three veterans who were experiencing homelessness and utilizing the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) Men’s Shelter, 2100 Lakeside Ave.

This is the pilot project for the Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative, a collaboration between the Cuyahoga Land Bank (CLB) and LLM. While another non-veteran shelter client is also living in the duplex, it has six bedrooms. Hence LMM is in the process of placing two more vets.

“We really try to have the application and criteria as open as they can be,” says Michael Sering, LMM’s vice president of housing and shelter. “We didn’t want to create barriers for someone’s housing. There are enough barriers in the community.” Prospective applicants must be able to live independently, get along with roommates and pay 30 percent of their income towards monthly rent, but no less than $325. All utilities are included.

“We have to break even on it financially,” says Sering of the minimum rent payment. “There is no government subsidy or anything.”

The open slots will be filled by eligible veterans that are from the 2100 Shelter population or via a referral from the Cuyahoga County Veterans Service Commission (VSC), but if there is a vacancy and another appropriate applicant waiting, he will be offered residence.

The housing is permanent, which Sering notes as the most impactful point of the initiative.

“Everyone wants people in permanent housing – not in a shelter. Ultimately that’s the goal,” he says. “They pay rent and live here indefinitely. We imagine some people might move on,” he adds, citing an increase in income or other housing opportunities presenting themselves. And if not, “this is definitely permanent housing.”

Located within walking distance of a grocery, pharmacy and two bus lines, the duplex features two separate residences, approximately 1,300 square feet each. Each side has its own front and back doors, kitchen, living and dining rooms, basement and three bedrooms.

The land bank identified the property and prepared it for title transfer to the LMM as a donation. The paperwork was completed in September; and the men, who are in their 50s and 60s, moved in just a few weeks ago.

So far things are going along well.

“Two of the guys had already known each other and were referred together,” says Sering. “They’re good friends. They’re glad to be moving in together. They’re a support network for each other; they had that built in. The other two guys are off to a good start.”

While LMM will be sending along a staffer once a month to check in and make sure the men’s needs are met and that they have access to services, that’s about it.

“This is not a rigorous case load,” says Sering, adding that counseling and monitoring will not be required. “These are people that just need affordable housing.”

As for the house, LMM spent $40,000 refurbishing the interior. King’s Sons 820, an organization that helps young people adopt trade skills, did the work.

“The house was in decent shape,” says Sering. “It’s brick and has a fairly new roof and windows, so most of work was on the interior. They painted everything and sanded the wood floors, which came out beautifully. They pretty much gutted the kitchen,” he adds.

Sering hopes that the East Cleveland house will prove to be a successful pilot for the initiative and an example for many more to come.

“The land bank has thousands of houses that they want to see go to a good use,” says Sering. “We have lots of homeless people and homeless vets that need housing.

“If this works as we think it should, the sky’s the limit on doing it over and over again.”

LMM is accepting household donations for this venture, including linens for six new mattress sets (four queen and two twin) and pillows that were donated byMattress Firm. Cleaning and paper supplies are also appreciated. Any duplicate items will be shared with other veterans moving out of the shelter. Contact Kelly Camlin, associate director of LMM’s Men’s Shelter, at 216-649-7718 ext. 480 for more information.

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NEON Veteran Housing Initiative

Earlier this year the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services (NLand Bank Staff EON) collaborated and broke ground on a future home for veterans in Collinwood. The project is part of the NEON Healthy Communities Initiative that will offer safe, affordable and desirable living spaces for veterans and their families, while being located across from NEON’s Collinwood Health Center.  Once complete, the project will offer ten housing units to support veterans.

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HomeFront Veterans Program

The HomeFront Veterans Home Ownership Program is designed to help veterans achieve the dream Land Bank Staff of home ownership.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank is offering affordable options to those who are currently serving in or have served the United States Armed Forces. These homes are fully renovated.  Veterans interested in purchasing can visit our website for further details.

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Building a Home for Women Veterans

How does a person go from working over twenty years in the commercial construction industry to serving veteran women who mLand Bank Staff ay be rebounding from drug addiction, domestic violence, incarceration or homelessness?  Sheila Locatelli, CEO and Founder of Women of Hope, would say she never saw it coming.  But today, Sheila is 
renovating a vacant and abandoned Cuyahoga Land Bank house for four veteran women.  The home “Ariya’s House” is expected to be up and running in early 2016.    
When asked why she began Women of Hope, Sheila stated “It was a story of obedience to God and an openness to follow my heart.”  She simply saw a need and “with the help of God” began to take the necessary steps to proactively work to make a change. “I was floored,” Sheila commented, “by the statics of how many veteran women struggle with homelessness.” 
In 2007, Women of Hope was established.  The organization began fulfilling its mission of providing transitional housing and supportive services for homeless female veterans. They started by running 8-week workshops entitled “Strengthening the Inner Me” for women residing at the Veteran’s Administration (VA) Domiciliary.  Women of Hope recently met with women at the VA Domiciliary and shared the future opening of Ariya’s House.  The new opportunity brought hope to the women’s eyes.  The chance for the women to be a part of a supportive community and have a safe place to call home reminded Sheila of the priceless rewards found in the Women of Hope’s work.
Land Bank Staff Sheila Locatelli has exemplified a remarkable level of tenacity, vision and leadership in keeping Women of Hope active in the veteran community, while on the journey of renovating the organization’s first home.  Along with the help of her board, Sheila has led the charge in securing nearly $16,000 in material, labor and cash donations for Ariya’s House.  Similar to the stories of many starting a new organization, Sheila started the renovation of Ariya’s House while balancing her full-time job separate from Women of Hope.  “Sheila has stood determined to see Ariya House succeed to assist those women who have served our nation,” says Vatiesha Nyemba, Complance and Monitoring Manager at the Cuyahoga Land Bank. Vatiesha has worked with Women of Hope during the renovation process and the organization has exemplified its ability to effectively manage real estate and maintain a sustainable program of impact.
The Cuyahoga Land Bank is frequently collaborating with a variety of individuals and organizations to support community goals and better the lives of county residents.  This ranges from hearing from organizations in their beginning stages to assisting in the implementation of well-capitalized plans backed by local, state and federal agencies. 
Women ofLand Bank Staff  Hope has stood out as a small non-profit which is building its vision as an organization.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank is looking forward to its partnership with Women of Hope and the success of Ariya’s House in serving the needs of the veteran community. All things considered, Sheila believes that the hard work, fund raising, project managing, head (and heart) aches will be well worth it. All who meet and get to know this visionary leader will soon learn that she is willing to do what it takes to make the words “homeless” and “veteran” never be used in the same sentence.

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Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Partnership to Serve Veterans

Three veterans will soon have a place to call home thanks to a new partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM). The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative provides permanent affordable housing for homeless veterans living in Cuyahoga County, helping them achieve independence. The Cuyahoga Land Bank is committed to creating and furthering opportunities for veterans and actively seeks partnerships to address veteran’s housing issues. LMM’s Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside serves 4,000 men annually with 600 of those being homeless veterans. The Veteran’s AffordableLand Bank Staff Housing Initiative is a result of these organizations combining their missions to provide assistance to homeless veterans, thousands of whom live in Cuyahoga County.
The first home completed as part of the Initiative is located in East Cleveland and can house up to six veterans. “This project is a win-win,” said East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton. “It provides an affordable permanent home to veterans that have sacrificed to serve our country and takes an old property and breathes new life into it at the same time. We are honored to have these veterans call East Cleveland home.”
After determining needed accommodations with the help of LMM, the Cuyahoga Land Bank identified the East Cleveland property, facilitated the transfer and hired King’s Sons 821, a local youth workforce development training program, as the general contractor who led the renovation construction. Thanks to generous support from several LMM donors, LMM was able to purchase the renovated property with a favorable financing plan from the Cuyahoga Land Bank. LandLand Bank Staff Bank Staff “Everyone deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” said Gus Frangos, President and General Counsel, Cuyahoga County Land Bank. “The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative will get our homeless veterans into homes and help them regain their independence.”
The duplex has six bedrooms, giving each veteran a private space; and features a shared kitchen and living space on each side where the veterans can gather together. LMM’s Men’s Shelter coordinates the tenant screening, selection and placement while LMM’s Social Enterprise program will act as landlord and will coordinate ongoing tenant check-in and support services as-needed.
Land Bank Staff “LMM is committed to addressing long-standing problems with innovative solutions and the veteran’s housing partnership is a good example,” said Andrew Genszler, LMM President and Chief Executive Officer and a Navy chaplain. “Our homeless veterans have sacrificed much in service to our country and this partnership is just onLand Bank Staff e way that we can honor and serve these men; supporting them on a path to self-sufficiency.”
LMM is accepting donations of housewarming gifts, such as bedding, towels and other small household items, so that the veterans can feel at home. Anyone who would like to make a donation should contact Kelly Camlin, Associate Director of the Men’s Shelter, at (216) 649-7718 x480.
Both organizations are hopeful that the success of the East Cleveland home will lead to more homes being renovated and made available to veterans through the Initiative.

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LLM Veterans Housing – Women of Hope – Veterans Day Feature

NL Veterans

Posted in 2015.11.1, Newsletter, Veterans Day Feature

County establishing land bank (Bycarus Telegraph)

BUCYRUS – Depending on the size of the structure, it  takes only a day or two to tear down a house, a lot less time than it took to build it.

But in reality, property demolitions virtually never happen that quickly. For one, a single demolition can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 for just a modest house, and arriving at who’s going to foot the bill often takes some negotiation. Getting to the point where demolition becomes the agreed-upon best option for a vacant or derelict property can require a far lengthier process.

The last full U.S. Census Bureau count, conducted in 2010, found 2,000 vacant properties scattered around Crawford County, although the great majority are languishing in its two largest municipalities, Bucyrus and Galion. Arriving at a specific number in either city is challenging. Galion Mayor Tom O’Leary estimated this week that there are probably anywhere from 500 to 800 abandoned properties in his city.

County auditor Joan Wolfe said there are 1,544 tax-delinquent properties in the county, or 4.5 percent of the total of 33,856 parcels.

“One way to measure the vacancy rate is to look at all the un-mown lawns,” he said.

“Several of our wards, especially Ward 1, have many derelict and decaying properties,” Bucyrus Mayor Jeff Reser said. “Some are being fixed up, but many will have to be town down. We are trying to put additional funds in the 2016 budget to tear down blighted homes, but funds are tight and we still won’t be able to make a huge dent in the problem for years at the current rate of demolition.”

Crawford County, of course, is not alone in confronting this problem, nor is it a new problem. The stepped-up war against illegal drugs is resulting in an increasing number of vacant houses, which often become tax-delinquent the longer they stay empty, but it was the foreclosure crisis triggering the Great Recession of 2008 that really changed the urban landscape.

It didn’t take long, however, for at least one response to the problem of vacant properties to get off the ground. In Ohio, the effort began in Cuyahoga County, which has 22,000 vacant properties on its tax rolls (Detroit, meanwhile, has twice as many). The state legislature passed a county land bank statute in 2009, and since then about two dozen counties have established land banks as a means of getting a handle on this situation.

Land banks are quasi-governmental corporations with the authority to take over vacant properties that have slipped into tax delinquency. Until this past September, Ohio only allowed them in counties with populations of at least 60,000. Now all counties are free to create a land bank, and Crawford County, with a population of 42,480, is early in the process of doing just that.

“There can be economy-of-scale issues. In other words, do we have enough of these properties? One way to overcome that is working with other land banks. I’m looking into that to make this more economical,” county Prosecutor Matt Crall said.

“The biggest obstacle is how fast we want to push forward and look for funding. If we can apply for grants, we will. If we sell a vacant property, that’s money to fund the program,” commissioner Steve Reinhard said.

“We’ll start with Gary’s seed money, and get the resolutions we need. We’re all in agreement to get this started.”

Less grant money

Grants, however, may not be the resource they once were. Commissioner Doug Weisenauer said the federal Community Development Block Grant program brought just $16,000 to the county last year.

“The CDBG solution is a partial one at best. It’s underwhelming with how much you get,” Galion’s O’Leary said. “I worry about knocking down five houses when there are 500 that need to come down. There’s a thimble-full of resources and a huge need.”

“An odd number is good because that way you won’t have a tie vote,” observed Crall, who added that finding community leaders with real estate and probably banking experience, too, will also be necessary.

“Whoever is selected as the director and board of this new entity will be the key. It has to be someone with vision, experience and dedication to the local area. If it is someone who is just satisfied with tearing down 10 houses a year, it will never reach its full potential and never be self-sustaining,” Bucyrus Law Director Rob Ratliff said.

Choosing which properties to take over and which structures to demolish isn’t likely to present too great a challenge; residents of every municipality in the county have no trouble identifying eyesores they’d like to see removed. But after the land bank takes control of a parcel, it could be confronted by a whole host of thorny issues that go to the heart of what constitutes a community.

“Selling the vacant residential properties won’t result in much profit; usually it will be done at a loss. But homeowners should begin to see an immediate escalation in their property values. That will in turn make the cleared lots worth more, and it becomes a happy, upward spiral on housing,” Ratliff said.

“Sometimes the financial equation may not make sense for the community. I hope this process helps communities take properties and make them economically feasible. I know that’s the overall goal,” Crall said.

O’Leary said he’s glad the county is taking the lead on creating a land bank, but added that “philosophical issues” will be a given once the derelict buildings start coming down.

“If you do it as inexpensively as possible, you get low-end results. If you lower the cost of building a home in a community, there are some nice houses down there on Rogers Street (in Bucyrus) that are probably going to be plagued by this. And different generations look at this differently. Thirtysomethings who want to add vibrancy to a community may look at this differently from someone who is just looking to preserve the community,” he said.

He also said his city of Galion may be interested in keeping rather than selling some of these properties once the land bank takes them over.

“You sit there with a lot from 1857 and it’s too small to build anything on,” he said. But mixing and matching parcels has its own problems.

“You could put more work into administration to split lots rather than just sell them,” county Auditor Wolfe said.

“We have a lot of lots that are built on top of one another. Separation is good for neighborhood stabilization, there are fewer fights and squabbles,” John Rostash, code enforcement officer for the city of Bucyrus, said.

“But our neighborhoods are very dynamic and each one is different. If you’re going to do this, you need to do it right for our communities. It needs to be taken on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“It’s not normally designed to be fast and there are good reasons for that. Someone’s right to property is in the U.S. Constitution. It shouldn’t be easy for the government to take away your property,” he said.

If Crawford County’s land bank allows homeowners to retain the value in their homes, however, it will be worth it, the prosecutor said.

“The key to success and sustainability of the land bank will be packaging land for future development,” Ratliff said.

“Whether as developer, partner in the development, or just as a facilitator, this is where the land bank can generate ongoing income and sustain itself. This is also where we can see economic growth for the entire county.”

“We can start with the blighted properties and then work from there, start small,” county Treasurer Cole said. “It’s the beginning of a long road.”

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Lessons From Cuyahoga County On Land Banking (WESA)


Since land bank legislation was adopted in 2009, Cuyahoga County has been working to create an effective process to deal with abandoned and vacant properties. Six years later, they’re taking in at least 100 properties every month while gradually eliminating blight in the region.  We’ll ask Cuyahoga County Land Bank President and General Counsel Gus Frangos how they’ve developed their model and what improvements could be adopted in the Pittsburgh area.

Listen to Gus’s interview from the source.

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Home for Homeless Veterans created in East Cleveland (La Prensa)

CLEVELAND, Nov. 9, 2015: Three veterans will soon have a place to call home thanks to a new partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM). The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative provides permanent affordable housing for homeless veterans living in Cuyahoga County, helping them achieve independence.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank is committed creating and furthering opportunities for veterans and actively seeks partnerships to address veteran’s issues.  LMM’s Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside serves 4,000 men annually with 600 of those being homeless veterans.  The Veteran’s Affordable Housing Initiative is a result of these organizations combining their missions to provide assistance to homeless veterans, thousands of whom live in Cuyahoga County.

“After serving our county with honor, our veterans should never have to worry about having a roof over their head,” said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. “While I’m working to address this tragedy at the federal level, local organizations are essential to connecting Ohio’s veterans with housing options. This partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry will help our veterans get on their feet and lead independent lives. There’s no better way to honor our veterans than to give them the support they deserve.”

The first home completed as part of the Initiative is located in East Cleveland and can house up to six veterans.  “This project is a win-win,” said East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton.  “It provides an affordable permanent home to veterans that have sacrificed to serve our country and takes an old property and breathes new life into it at the same time.  We are honored to become the hometown for these vets.”

After determining needed accommodations with the help of LMM, the Cuyahoga Land Bank identified the East Cleveland property, facilitated the transfer and hired King’s Sons 821, a local youth workforce development training program, as the general contractor who led the renovation construction. Thanks to generous support from several LMM donors, LMM was able to purchase the renovated property with a favorable financing plan from Cuyahoga Land Bank.

“Everyone deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” said Gus Frangos, president, Cuyahoga County Land Bank. “The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative will get our homeless veterans into homes and help them regain their independence.”

The duplex has six bedrooms, giving six veterans a private space; and features a shared kitchen and living space on each side where the veterans can gather together.  LMM’s Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside coordinates the tenant screening, selection and placement while LMM’s Social Enterprise program will act as landlord and will coordinate ongoing tenant check-in and support services as-needed.

“LMM is committed to addressing long-standing problems with innovative solutions and the veteran’s housing partnership is a good example,” said Andrew Genszler, LMM president and chief executive officer and a Navy chaplain.  “Our homeless veterans have sacrificed much in service to our country and this partnership is just one way that we can honor and serve these men; supporting them on a path to self-sufficiency.”

LMM is accepting donations of housewarming gifts, such as bedding, towels and other small household items, so that they can feel at home.  Anyone who would like to make a donation should contact Kelly Camlin, associate director of the men’s shelter, at (216) 649-7718 x480.

Both organizations are hopeful that the success of the East Cleveland home will lead to more homes being renovated and made available to veterans through the Initiative.

Read it from the source.

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Paying down the vet debt with safe shelter: editorial (Plain Dealer)

Veterans should be honored, not homeless. None of them should be haunting the streets, or soup kitchens. They risked their lives, limbs and mental health to secure what we take for granted.

They have earned the best that we can offer.

Let’s start with a roof over their heads — that basic building block of American achievement; a place they can call home, an anchor that grounds them and – even better – provides a base from which to face the future.

Cue the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry.

Together, these two local nonprofits – one with homes without people and the other with people without homes — have created the Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative. Its pilot project – a six-bedroom duplex in East Cleveland – currently houses three male veterans, according to Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry spokeswoman Megan Crow Brauer.

The ministry’s Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue is screening additional candidates, some of whom currently live in the shelter, or have been referred by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other community organizations, Brauer said.

The East Cleveland property — which was given to the ministry by the land bank – required $44,000 in renovations, said Dennis Roberts, director of programs and property management for the Land Bank.

Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry was able to raise $26,000 through donations, and the Land Bank loaned the remaining $18,000 at no interest, Roberts said.

“We’re looking to make unproductive properties productive,” Roberts said.

What better use for those properties than to house heroes.

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Land Trust Program renovates four formerly troubled South Euclid homes for resale (Sun News)

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — The Rev. Calvin Allen and his wife of nearly 40 years, Darlene, had been living the past few years in his late mother’s home in Cleveland.

When it was time to move, they looked in South Euclid, where Calvin’s sister lives. Searching for that new home, the couple came across the Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland‘s Land Trust Program. The program, which will eventually include the rehabilitation and resale of four homes in South Euclid, represents an opportunity for moderate-income families to purchase a home at a price they can afford.

The program’s help doesn’t stop at the time of purchase, however, as it also provides instruction to new homeowners about issues concerning future financial matters and home maintenance.

“I would highly recommend this program to anyone,” Calvin Allen said. “It’s a very good program. It’s a blessing.”

The Allens recently moved into their new place of residence on Norma Drive. Like all Land Trust Program homes, it had been fully renovated and equipped with energy efficient windows, furnace, refrigerator, dishwasher, disposal and insulation.

“The house is energy efficient and something we can afford,” said Allen, pastor at Root of David Christian Ministry.

The program is eligible to those who meet income guidelines. They range from an income of $37,050 for one person, to $52,900 for a four-person family, to $69,850 for a family of eight.

The homes, once-foreclosed upon and subsequently listed on the roster of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, are subsequently renovated by the non-profit NHS using funds from a few sources.

“The four homes in South Euclid will get a combined $530,000 put into them,” said NHS Executive Director Lou Tisler. “That money comes from the Ohio Housing Financial Agency, the Cuyahoga County Department of Development, and the home owner, who pays about $72,000 for the house.”

When completed, the homes, Tisler said, are worth about $105,000. They are generally sold for about $85,000, but with the program’s assistance, the actual cost to the buyer is about $72,000.

When purchasers buy a Land Trust Program home, they get a 99-year lease on the property upon which the home is situated, but buy the home. NHS retains ownership of the land, but the property can be used as any homeowner would his or her property.

The homeowner gets a mortgage to the home.

The home can be passed down to children. If the home is resold, it must be sold to an owner-occupant, and the resale price must be affordable, as stated in the lease agreement.

“We always like to give back,” Calvin Allen said. “If we sold our house, which we probably never will, we like that we would sell it at an affordable price and give someone else a chance to own a home.”

Tisler said that there is one Land Trust home in Cleveland Heights, one in Shaker Heights and a total of 13 single-family homes in the county. There are also 13 rental homes in the county.

In South Euclid, the four homes are single-family dwellings. Next up for sale is a home, built in 1951 and foreclosed upon in 2011, at 1236 Avondale Road.

Also to be sold are homes at 3826 Wallingford Road, and 4114 Wilmington Road.

The Avondale Road home, a bungalow that measures 1,251 square feet, has been renovated to include a bedroom, bathroom and closets on its second floor, formerly an attic storage space. It’s basement has been cleaned and new I-beams added.

The two-car garage has been totally upgraded, and new vinyl siding added to the home and garage. The back door features newly built steps, and the front door, new handrails and door overhang.

Tisler said the home’s energy efficiency has been increased by 50 percent from its former state.

“It’s a safer, more secure way of home ownership,” South Euclid Housing Manager Sally Martin said of the program. “(NHS) prepares you for the challenges of home ownership and for maintenance, because there are things when you first buy a home that you need to know that no one teaches you.”

Martin said the fix-up of the Land Trust Program homes can also uplift neighborhoods.

“It can give neighbors confidence that they can spend money on their properties because they see this happening next door,” she said.

Martin added that, while on the Land Bank list, the Avondale Road home could possibly have been demolished, as opposed to becoming a solid part of the city’s housing stock.

For more information on the South Euclid Land Trust Program homes or the program, call 216-458-4663, ext. 2334, or visit LandTrust@nhscleveland.org.

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CLEVELAND, OH – Three veterans will soon have a place to call home thanks to a new partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM). The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative provides 672-26-064_bpermanent affordable housing for homeless veterans living in Cuyahoga County, helping them achieve independence.


The Cuyahoga Land Bank is committed creating and furthering opportunities for veterans and actively seeks partnerships to address veteran’s issues.  LMM’s Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside serves 4,000 men annually with 600 of those being homeless veterans.  The Veteran’s Affordable Housing Initiative is a result of these organizations combining their missions to provide assistance to homeless veterans, thousands of whom live in Cuyahoga County.

“After serving our county with honor, our veterans should never have to worry about having a roof over their head,” said U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. “While I’m working to address this tragedy at the federal level, local organizations are essential to connecting Ohio’s veterans with housing options. This partnership between the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry will help our veterans get on their feet and lead independent lives. There’s no better way to honor our veterans than to give them the support they deserve.”

The first home completed as part of the Initiative is located in East Cleveland and can house up to six veterans.  “This project is a win-win,” said East Cleveland Mayor Gary Norton.  “It provides an affordable permanent home to veterans that have sacrificed to serve our country and takes an old property and breathes new life into it at the same time.  We are honored to become the hometown for these vets.”

After determining needed accommodations with the help of LMM, the Cuyahoga Land Bank identified the East Cleveland property, facilitated the transfer and hired King’s Sons 821, a local youth workforce development training program, as the general contractor who led the renovation construction. Thanks to generous support from several LMM donors, LMM was able to purchase the renovated property with a favorable financing plan from Cuyahoga Land Bank.

“Everyone deserves a safe, stable place to call home,” said Gus Frangos, president, Cuyahoga County Land Bank. “The Veterans’ Affordable Housing Initiative will get our homeless veterans into homes and help them regain their independence.”

Donor Event 3.25.15_1The duplex has six bedrooms, giving six veterans a private space; and features a shared kitchen and living space on each side where the veterans can gather together.  LMM’s Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside coordinates the tenant screening, selection and placement while LMM’s Social Enterprise program will act as landlord and will coordinate ongoing tenant check-in and support services as-needed.


“LMM is committed to addressing long-standing problems with innovative solutions and the veteran’s housing partnership is a good example,” said Andrew Genszler, LMM president and chief executive officer and a Navy chaplain.  “Our homeless veterans have sacrificed much in service to our country and this partnership is just one way that we can honor and serve these men; supporting them on a path to self-sufficiency.”

LMM is accepting donations of housewarming gifts, such as bedding, towels and other small household items, so that they can feel at home.  Anyone who would like to make a donation should contact Kelly Camlin, associate director of the men’s shelter, at (216) 649-7718 x480.

Both organizations are hopeful that the success of the East Cleveland home will lead to more homes being renovated and made available to veterans through the Initiative.




About Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry

Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (www.lutheranmetro.org) serves and advocates with people in Northeast Ohio to help them gain employment, secure stable housing, access counseling and support, stay out of prison and become self-sufficient, productive members of our community.  Last year, LMM served nearly 9,000 people with the help hundreds of partners and thousands of volunteers.


About the Cuyahoga Land Bank

The mission of the Cuyahoga Land Bank (www.cuyahogalandbank.org) 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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HARP is music to homeowners’ ears but Greater Clevelanders need to use it more: editorial (cleveland.com)

The federal Home Affordable Refinance Program was added to an orchestra of taxpayer-funded loan modification instruments during the lowest days of the predatory loan and foreclosure crisis, in March 2009.

HARP was designed to aid homeowners whose property values had gone south and who were unable, for that reason, to refinance through traditional means.

The program is available to those whose loans are owned or guaranteed by the federal home loan mortgage giants Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae.

“It really is great deal,” said Lou Tisler, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland.

The problem is that too many people in Greater Cleveland who remain eligible for HARP refinancing aren’t availing themselves of this valuable tool to reduce mortgage payments on underwater properties.

Cuyahoga County ranks fourth nationally in the number of homeowners — 6,333 — eligible for HARP who aren’t using it, according to a recent study by the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

They have mortgages that are more than 1.5 percent above current market value, owe at least $50,000 and have at least 10 years left on their loan.

Time is of the essence, though. HARP is scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.


Editorials express the view of theeditorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer — the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.• Talk about the topic of this editorial in the comments below.

• Send a letter to the editor, which will be considered for print publication.

• Email general questions or comments about the editorial board toElizabeth Sullivan, opinion director for cleveland.com.


In the wake of the Great Recession, too many inner-city neighborhoods across Ohio remain littered with zombie properties – vacant and abandoned properties that are crime scenes waiting to happen. HARP is designed to keep more homes from joining that list.

There are 32,180 homeowners across the state who would benefit from a HARP makeover, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency analysis.

That number again ranks Ohio fourth in the nation behind Florida, Illinois and Michigan.

The feds now are making a concerted effort to contact faith leaders, community housing advocates and others to spread the word that HARP is there to help keep people in their homes. Time is running out.

“We’ve heard borrowers are very skeptical of this program, and rightfully so,” Megan Moore, a special adviser at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, told Plain Dealer financial columnist Teresa Dixon Murray. “You get solicited by phone. You get a piece of mail. And you just don’t believe it.”

Well, believe it. This program is there to help homeowners and their neighbors. Take advantage of it.

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COLUMBUS – The Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) today announced the recipients of additional funding under a program designed to help prevent foreclosures and stabilize local property values through the demolition and greening of vacant and blighted homes across the state. Twelve participating counties with established land banks were awarded a portion of $13 million in funding available through the fourth round of the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP).

The twelve counties receiving an increase in funding through NIP are:

  • Ashtabula County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Clark County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Columbiana County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation – $6,075,000
  • Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (Franklin) – $500,000
  • Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Lucas County Land Reutilization Corporation – $2,300,000
  • Mahoning County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Montgomery County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Richland County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Stark County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000
  • Trumbull County Land Reutilization Corporation – $500,000

“Neighbors suffer the most profound effects of blight – from increased crime, ugly landscapes and the reduced availability of city services to a drop in property values, which can increase the risk of foreclosure,” said OHFA Executive Director Doug Garver. “This program reduces and can even eliminate these factors, alleviating the burden on families, communities and Ohio’s economy.”

Recipients of the fourth round of funding qualified after demonstrating substantial or exceptional progress towards acquiring vacant and blighted properties under theprogram. The amount of funding each county received was calculated based on their acquisition and spend-down rates.

The maximum amount of assistance per property is $25,000, with an estimated average amount of assistance of $12,000. Nearly 1,200 blighted structures were already removed, with an additional 180 units pending approval as a result of the first three funding rounds. OHFA also approved the free or low-cost transfer of 140 newly greened lots to neighboring homeowners.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury allocated $570.4 million of Hardest Hit Funds to OHFA in 2010 to administer the state’s foreclosure prevention program, Save the Dream Ohio, and has since approved the use of $79 million for NIP. Funding for this round of NIP will utilize recycled Hardest Hit Funds and awards from land banks that have not met minimum property acquisition requirements.

OHFA is partnering with 21 land banks across the state to focus blight elimination efforts in target areas where the demolition and greening of vacant homes will assist in preventing a further reduction in property values and the foreclosure of neighboring, occupied residential homes. Awardees are responsible for all aspects of the property acquisition and removal as well as plans for greening and ongoing maintenance of the property.

# # #

About the Ohio Housing Finance Agency
OHFA is a self-supporting quasi-public agency governed by an eleven member board. The Agency uses federal and state resources to provide housing opportunities for families and individuals through programs designed to develop, preserve and sustain affordable housing throughout the state of Ohio. OHFA is also the administrator of the state’s foreclosure prevention program, Save the Dream Ohio.

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Area land banks awarded $500,000 (Tribtoday.com)

WARREN – The Ohio Housing Finance Agency has awarded land banks in Trumbull and Mahoning counties $500,000 each.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, announced Tuesday that OHFA, through its Neighborhood Initiative Program, has made $13 million available from the U.S. Treasury’s Hardest Hit Funds for 12 Ohio land banks.

“I am pleased to announce that our local land banks have been rewarded for their hard work and commitment to excellence,” a news release from Ryan stated. “These funds allow our local land banks to continue improving quality of life in Northeast Ohio by fighting blight and creating sustainable neighborhoods.”

The program aims to stabilize property values by removing and greening vacant and blighted properties in targeted areas to prevent future foreclosures for existing homeowners in those neighborhoods. Local land banks acquire and find productive uses for vacant, abandoned or tax-foreclosed properties.

“This allocation gives a huge shot in the arm to (Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership) and the TCLRC’s (Trumbull County Land Reutilization Corporation) established effort to increase the quality of life in the neighborhoods of Trumbull County,” said TNP Executive Director Matt Martin. “We have torn down over a hundred houses through this program already and greened a dozen lots. We have a ways to go and this will help us take another huge step forward.”

Mahoning County Land Reutilization Corporation also received $500,000.

This is the fourth round of Neighborhood Initiative funding. Recipients qualified by showing progress in acquiring vacant and blighted properties. Funds were recycled from land banks that have not met minimum property acquisition requirements. OHFA was allocated $570.4 million of Hardest Hit Funds by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2010, and $79 million of those funds have been approved for use by the NIP.

Hardest Hit Funds were released following the housing crisis to assist state governments in their efforts to help struggling homeowners in the 18 hardest hit states. State Housing Finance Agencies have until the end of 2017 to use the funds.

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A Flower Farm Blooms From An Abandoned House In Detroit (Huffington Post)

DETROIT — The ephemeral installation that filled an abandoned house with flowers last weekend was over before the blossoms had time to wilt, but it leaves behind the seeds of a plan to keep the property blooming for years.

The Flower House, created by florist Lisa Waud and several dozen collaborators from around the country, opened in the Detroit enclave of Hamtramck for about 2,000 visitors. The brief exhibition is only the first stage in Waud’s plan for the site, which will eventually be home to a flower farm.

Waud first started dreaming about a large-scale floral installation after seeing photos of a 2012 fashion show that used a million flowers for an ethereal backdrop, but her plan for the Flower House really began to take shape when she settled on a site. Last year, she purchased two adjacent vacant houses at Hamtramck’s housing auction for $500.

“I opened up the door, and it was full of clothes and mail and broken furniture and all kinds of things, and that’s when I realized that it wasn’t just a campus for our work. … and realized that I was responsible for the house even after the project was complete.”

After hauling out several tons of debris, stabilizing the structures and doing a trial run, Waud invited a dozen florists to Hamtramck last week to transform one of the houses into a work of art, using tens of thousands of blossoms, branches and vegetables to create a separate installation in each room, and on the staircases and porches.

Knives and forks were swept up into a wild cyclone sculpture that took over an empty upstairs room, and fresh peppers and tomatoes spilled out of kitchen cabinets. In the bathroom, flower chains replaced the shower curtain and a roll of birch bark spun where toilet paper used to hang.

All the flowers were donated by American flower farms, who sent greenery by the truckload. Their involvement sparked a realization in Waud: that the project should continue beyond the installation.

The house will be deconstructed, a process that salvages materials so they can be reused, and the leftover blooms will become mulch for dahlias and peonies she’ll grow for her business, Pot & Box.

Some have questioned the value of tearing down a house after pouring so much time and effort into it. But to Waud, it’s her individual way of growing her business, putting down roots in the city and bringing a little life back to the block.

“We’re bettering our amazing city,” Waud said Friday at a dinner held to promote American flower farmers, on ground that will soon hold peony beds.

“We’re doing creative reuse of buildings and land,” she continued. “We’re celebrating immense collaboration and generosity, we’re celebrating the simple idea of beauty, we’re celebrating local and national pride for our farms and we’re celebrating rebirth.”

Read it from the source and check out pictures of the house!

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$15M urban-agriculture plan to transform Detroit space (The Detroit News)

A $15 million urban-agriculture project announced Monday is expected to transform 22 blocks of blighted land on Detroit’s lower east side into a massive swath of greenhouses and hoop houses.

The project’s 60-acre footprint — south of Interstate 94, along Chene Street to Forest Avenue — includes 35 acres of vacant land the city wants to lease to RecoveryPark, a nonprofit whose mission is to help ex-offenders and recovering addicts find employment.

Mayor Mike Duggan said the project will transform lives by putting vacant land to use and employing ex-offenders. It will employ up to 128 people within three years with 60 percent to be Detroit residents.

The project, to be operated by RecoveryPark Farms, a for-profit entity, must be approved by the Detroit City Council, which is expected to consider the issue next week.

“One of the questions that we are facing as a city is, what do we do with the vacant land that’s left behind,” Duggan said. “Today is an example of what I hope becomes the basis for the development of this land.”

The project will contain greenhouses, hoop houses and other agriculture businesses to grow specialty vegetables such as striped carrots, breakfast radishes, edible flowers and salad mixes that wind up on plates in high-end Detroit restaurants.

Duggan made the announcement at the once-thriving and now-defunct Chene-Ferry Market which will serve as a center for RecoveryPark operations and distribution.

“We are not just transforming property. We are going to transform lives,” Duggan said. “They are taking the hardest to employ folks in our community and putting them to work on land that had been long abandoned and forgotten.”

Gary Wozniak, CEO of the RecoveryPark, said the nonprofit grows specialty produce sold to chefs at several of Detroit’s high-end restaurants such as Selden Standard and Gold Cash Gold. RecoveryPark Farms managed two pilot farms, one in Waterford Township and the other in Detroit, validating demand for specialty produce in Metro Detroit, Wozniak said.

With $15 million of new capital investment coming into the neighborhood, Wozniak said he hopes to have a minimum of 20 acres of hydroponic growing and high tunnel growing.

“We are working with a regional distributor on making a contract of a minimum of $8 million in specialty produce that’s going to take us into 440 restaurants over a 10-year time. That’s exciting,” he said.

Investors in the nonprofit and the project include the Erb Family Foundation. The Kresge Foundation and the Detroit Development Fund have provided past support. Wozniak said he has about $1 million of the $15 million needed in the project and will need to raise the funds going forward.

The property would be leased by the Detroit Land Bank Authority to RecoveryPark for $105 per acre. Land Bank spokesman Craig Fahle said the project will beautify the neighborhood and be a huge part of the recovery of the east side of Detroit.

“This project is on a scale we have not seen in the city,” Fahle said. “It’s very exciting.”

Three to fives acres of high-tunnels, or hoop houses, which contain all dirt-based growing will be the first to go up this spring. Wozniak said he will start hiring for the project after the first of the year.


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Is local land bank best answer for blight? (Chillicothe Gazette)

CHILLICOTHE - Everyone’s driven past them: once-new structures that are now only shadows of their former selves, abandoned, overgrown by weeds, sometimes fire-damaged.

They are the buildings that define neighborhood blight and leave communities such as Ross County struggling to compel their owners to either fix them up or tear them down and to make good on the taxes that are owed.

Jim Rokakis, a former Cleveland city councilman, Cuyahoga County treasurer and now director of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute, plans on visiting Ross County after the November election to show how creating a land bank could provide the local community with the weapon it needs to do something about those properties.

Rokakis was a driving force behind the state’s 2009 county land bank statute and has been an active in helping communities set up land banks, having established around 25 already with 16 more in the works.

His interest in the land bank concept — which creates a nonprofit, quasi-governmental corporation with authority to take control of vacant and abandoned tax-delinquent properties for rehabilitation or demolition — stems from his experience in Cuyahoga County around the beginning of the last decade when the bottom began to fall out of the mortgage market, leading to a barrage of foreclosures not only in the Cleveland area, but in communities everywhere.

“By 2006 and 2007, Cleveland, which was the epicenter of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, had been so badly damaged, we were no longer talking about stopping foreclosures, we were now talking about dealing with the glut of vacant and abandoned properties that would never be occupied again,” he said. “We looked around the country and found this thing called a county land bank started by a guy named Dan Kildee … and he came across this idea of creating kind of a quasi-public entity that had extraordinary powers to take tax-delinquent and abandoned properties.”

The key is that entity had to be a local one with a vested interest in either rehabilitation or demolition to prepare the land for a fresh use.

As Chillicothe continues to deal with nuisance property issues, county government is dealing with foreclosure and tax delinquency problems. According to the Ross County Clerk of Courts Office, there have been 179 foreclosure actions filed so far this year, with 88 of those being closed. The Ross County Auditor’s Office reports 3,372 of the county’s 43,018 real estate parcels have past-due tax amounts, with delinquency being the tag given to a parcel with any amount of tax that is past due.

The Tax Compliance and Assistance Office, a joint effort of the county prosecutor’s and treasurer’s offices focusing on collection of delinquent property taxes, reveals the scope of the problem when it reports that it collected more than $2.5 million in delinquent taxes during 2014.

So should Ross County look to deposit its trust to address abandoned property issues in a land bank concept? Opinions are varied.

Republican mayoral candidate Nancy Ames has mentioned the land bank concept a couple of times during her campaign, including once during a mayoral town hall recently. She said she has been following the progress of land banks in other communities and called it a definite possibility for the local area. The Ross County commissioners already have a Community Improvement Corporation in place, she said, which could be the designee to run a land bank, and she said the city and county have already worked well together to demolish properties through a Moving Ohio Forward grant.

“Having a viable land bank increases property values and makes neighborhoods better,” Ames said. “It’s all about making better neighborhoods and making Chillicothe a better place to live.”

One of her opponents, Democrat Luke Feeney, said he is willing to explore the possibility of working with the county on a land bank approach.

“Land banks have unique powers to deal with these abandoned properties in ways that cities and counties simply cannot on their own — they’re able to operate efficiently and cost-effectively. The devil is always in the details, and ultimately the creation of a land bank is up to the county commissioners and the county treasurer. I have great confidence in that group, and I am looking forward to working with them as mayor to explore the opportunities a land bank would give this community, along with other ways we can strengthen our neighborhoods.”

Independent mayoral candidate Joe Sharp had not responded by press time to an email question regarding land banks sent to all three candidates.

Ross County Commissioner Steve Neal said commissioners have had discussions about the possibility of a land bank and that he’s willing to continue those talks with the next city administration. He said commissioners do have some concerns, however, that would need to be worked through.

“Our perspective is, we don’t want to create another bureaucracy if we don’t really need it,” Neal said. “You’re going to have to hire someone to manage that program. Obviously, we can see the benefits, but is it enough benefit to justify the cost? Those are the kinds of things we have to weigh.

“I think the other issue is kind of a legal issue with regard to how easy should it be to take someone’s property. There’s a philosophical issue there that I don’t think we’ve completely thought through and come to a consensus on.”

County treasurers play a large role in any land bank operation, and Ross County Treasurer Jerry Byers said he’s been asked recently to take a fresh look at the possibility locally.

“There is no question that land banks have proven to be an effective tool in communities dealing with significant vacant and abandoned property problems,” Byers said. “Those are situations where entire neighborhoods have just been abandoned. What we need to consider for Ross County is whether or not a land bank would be the right tool for the issues we have.”

Rokakis said land bank boards are made up of five, seven or nine members. Normally serving on them are the county treasurer, two county commissioners, one member from the largest city in the county, one township member if at least two townships have a population of greater than 10,000 people and others selected by agreement of the treasurer and two commissioners. The board would approve a code of regulations for the land bank; set policies for acquisition, demolition, rehabilitation or other disposition of properties; approve contracts and oversee financial issues; and hire an executive director.

He said that while Ross County did receive about $303,000 through the Moving Ohio Forward program that Ames mentioned, it has left money on the table through a recent allocation of $70 million in Hardest Hit funds that went only to counties that had active land banks.

Rokakis said he is encouraged by the interest from city and county officials who have indicated a willingness to meet with him after the election, including multiple inquiries he’s had from city council candidate Josh Cartee, and he hopes to work with local officials as the new year begins to get a land bank started locally.

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Blight blitz builds up Detroit property values (The Detroit News)

Home property values in Detroit are beginning to increase in areas where blight has been removed, according to a new report. But the development comes at time when money for demolition is drying up.

The 36-page report, commissioned by Rock Ventures and the Skillman Foundation and released Tuesday, found demolitions have increased the value of surrounding homes within 500 feet by 4.2 percent, or an average of $1,106. Citywide, that amounts to an increase in home values of more than $209 million.

The report also suggests that combined with other efforts by the city that include code enforcement and sales of public assets such as side lots, the value of homes nearby increased by 13.8 percent, or an average of $3,634. Citywide, that amounts to an increased property value of about $410 million.

“The numbers are extraordinary,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. Getting rid of blight has allowed “good homes and good vacant homes” to increase in value. “We have said this all along.”

From January 2014 until July 2015, 5,812 blighted structures in the city were demolished.

The funding for demolition comes from the U.S. Treasury Department’s “Hardest Hit” fund. In 2010 the fund made $7.6 billion available for foreclosure prevention in 18 states, including Michigan. Michigan’s share was over $498 million. Detroit ended up getting $100 million of that for demolition of blighted residential structures and remediation. Most of that money is spent and is expected to run out by December, Duggan said.

The mayor plans to travel to Washington soon to meet with White House officials and others to lobby for the next round of money. He said funding is going to come in “four- to six-month” intervals at this point.

The demolitions so far amount to about 10 percent of the blight in the city.

The city could utilize some available state money from its distress fund and tax increment financing subsidies, TIF, to help fund some of the demolitions, said Dave Boerger, who works on government collaboration issues with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

“We need $400-$500 million,” to remove all blight in Detroit, Duggan said. “No one can provide such funding other than the federal government.”

Removing all blight by 2020 is one of the main goals of post-bankrupt Detroit. It’s a massive problem. In 2014, an extensive survey counted 40,077 blighted structures. Another 38,429 were in danger of becoming vacant and run down in the near future. The 2014 survey was done by the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force, which brought together public, private, nonprofit, federal and state partners with the city.

“Either we are going to get this done, or we are going to die trying,” said Dan Gilbert, the founder of Detroit-based Quicken Loans Inc. and Rock Ventures. He is a co-chairman of the task force.

The extent of blight in the city is widespread and deeply entrenched. Prior to the blight program, residents often complained empty buildings could languish for years with little or no action by the city to even secure the property.

A blighted home being demolished Tuesday on Chalmers sold for $65,000 in 2006, public records show. It was foreclosed on last year and became empty and an eyesore. Several nearby homes are listed on the market for around $35,000.

Gilbert praised the newly released report on property values.

“This study is the financial proof demonstrating blight elimination is an investment in the community that has a direct and immediate financial return,” Gilbert said in a statement.

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Vacant land parcel brews up some heady history (Westlife)

Rocky River

Craft beer aficionados may know that portions of the Great Lakes Brewery, co-owned by Rocky River resident Pat Conway, are housed in the 1870s buildings which once served as horse stables, keg facilities and bottle storage for the Schlather Brewing Company from 1874 until it merged with the Cleveland and Sandusky Brewery in 1902.

Brewer Leonard Schlather and his wife Sophia built a summer estate on 93 acres overlooking the Rocky River valley, an area which now includes where Shoreland Drive and Wooster Road meet. City officials are hoping that a vacant plot of land at the northeast corner of that intersection may not only tie together the stories of the two Rocky River beer makers and other city history, but serve as a “passive park” for neighbors and cyclists.

Prior to last week’s legislative session, City Council held a public meeting to discuss uses for the property as well as application for a Cuyahoga County Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for its repurposing, which council later placed the measure on the second of three required readings. “This is a catalyst for investment in our community,” stated Mayor Pam Bobst, referring to a similar 2011 grant, which jump-started economic growth in the Old Detroit area of the city.

According to finance Director Mike Thomas, the city purchased the property for $154,000 several years ago. When the auto repair shop located on the land closed, a grant from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank was secured to tear down the building and clear the soil of any hazardous waste. It has been sitting as a green space for about three years.

“Our thought was to leverage the property to create a gathering space. We don’t envision this as an active park, but one that supports the commercial node,” Bobst added, referring to the strip of businesses on Wooster between Shoreland and Riverview Road.

“We believe this will be a strong project to submit to Cuyahoga County,” stated Bobst, continuing that it meets the grant criteria of collaboration and improvement of the quality of life. However, she said, historical significance can also be a deciding factor.
Enter some research done by Thomas, who is also treasurer of the Rocky River Historical Society.

“There is some old infrastructure there,” Thomas told Westlife. He added that the Wooster corridor is “closely tied to the agricultural history of the area, even before it was put under glass (greenhouses). “This portion of town,” he said, “also had close access to the Rocky River on the east.”

Thomas added that Sophia Schlather grew “victory gardens” on the estate grounds during World War II. It’s even speculated that her husband grew barley and other grains for crafting beer on the property. “I really would hope that we could do historical tours up Wooster and maybe grow barley and hops on the corner as a demonstration,” said Thomas.

(Bobst earlier suggested that the beer making grains could be supplied by Conway for his brews, bringing the area to a full historical circle.)

The proximity of the parcel to the Rocky River Public Library is an added plus, according to Thomas. In 1954, Sophia Schlather gave $100,000 to the library in memory of her husband, to expand its collections; the nation’s largest individual gift to a library at that time. Art work and furniture from the Schlather estate can also be seen in the library’s reading room.

“For a little spot, it’s certainly interesting,” Thomas said of the land.

“We were busy looking at the nuts and bolts of the application process, and Mike made this brilliant connection,” stated Bobst.

City officials will find out by December or January whether the grant application will be approved. Bobst said that the funds could total up to $150,000, and that the project must be completed by December 2016. She added that bigger cities do not need to compete for CBDG funds, but smaller municipalities with fewer needs do. “We never know who’s going to come in with another project,” said Bobst. She noted that if the plan is turned down by the county, it could possibly be supported by residential fund raising.

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Commissioners proclaim Red Ribbon Week; plan land bank meeting with former Cuyahoga County treasurer (Highland County Press)

Highland County Commissioners Shane Wilkin, Tom Horst and Jeff Duncan continued a years-long tradition and proclaimed the week of Oct. 23-31 as Red Ribbon Week in Highland County during their Wednesday, Oct. 7 board meeting.

Accepting the proclamation were: Joe Adray of FRS Counseling, Alison Bach-Oliver of Bright Local Schools, Meghan Griffith, of Lynchburg-Clay and Greenfield Exempted Village Schools, Kevy Jones of Fairfield Local Schools, Melinda Sheets of Paint Valley ADAMH (Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services), Hannah Allard of FRS and April Michael of Hillsboro City Schools.

Congress established Red Ribbon Week in 1988. Red Ribbon Week raises awareness of drug use and the problems related to drugs, and encourages parents, educators, business owners and other community organizations to promote drug-free lifestyles. Red Ribbon Week encourages the entire community to adopt healthy, drug-free lifestyles.

The National Family Partnership organized the first nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign.

According to Adray, he has been working with Red Ribbon Week events in conjunction with local schools and other organizations for the past 15 years.

“It’s a reminder to students not to use drugs or alcohol,” Adray said. “Red Ribbon Week is a community-wide approach against substance abuse and use.”

The Paint Valley ADAMH Board sponsors an annual essay contest for students in grades 5-12, with $100 as first-place awards in each school district and with a $500 scholarship for the countywide winner.

For more about the Red Ribbon Week campaign, go to http://redribbon.org.

* * *

JFS will need 
general fund money• Commission President Shane Wilkin also informed the board of a recent Columbus meeting with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“(Highland County JFS Director) Debbie Robbins and some of her staff and I met in Columbus related to the kids in (Children Services’) care,” Wilkin said.

“The unfortunate part is that we do appear to be tapping into all of our (available) funding streams. They gave us a few ideas, but we can still count on putting some general fund money into JFS before the end of the year – and starting soon.”

Wilkin said after a “high of 175 children in care,” the county now has approximately 140 children in care.

* * *

County accepting letters
for Board of DD vacancy

• Highland County Board of DD member Matthew French has announced his resignation and the county commissioners are asking anyone interested in the board vacancy to contact their office via personal letter or email.

“It’s a commissioner-appointed position,” Wilkin said. “Our preference would be to have a parent or guardian representative on the board for this position.”

* * *

Annexation meeting

• On Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 6 p.m., the city of Hillsboro will hold an annexation hearing at the Hillsboro Municipal Courtroom at the Justice Center on unincorporated properties. The meeting is open to the public.

* * *

Land Bank update

• As previously reported by The Highland County Press, commissioners are considering a county “land bank.”

According to Wilkin, former Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis of Western Land Conservancy has agreed to participate in a public forum to discuss the implementation of a local land bank.

For more information, go to http://www.wrlandconservancy.org/who-we-are/our-staff/jim-rokakis/

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Did you know?

Jason Knauer recently joined the staff at the Cuyahoga Land Bank as the Land Reuse Program Assistant. Jason’s primary role will include outreach and assistance to residents who would like to purchase vacant lots adjacent to their homes thLand Bank Staff rough the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s, Side Yard Program. Jason moved to Cleveland in 2013 after graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelor Degree in Urban Studies. He completed two years of service at Slavic Village Development – one as a Trinity Urban Service Corps Fellow and one as an AmeriCorps VISTA – working with community gardens and volunteer projects.  A big welcome to new employee, Jason!

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Posted in 2015.9.1, Didja Know?, Newsletter

Neighborhood Developer on a Mission

As a former U.S. Marine, local developer Daryl Anderson has been on many missions during his tour of duty in various countries. Daryl Anderson understands missions.
Anderson and his team at AP Business Solutions is now on a mission to help stabilize neighborhoods on Cleveland’s near west side.  Working with Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization and the Cuyahoga Land Bank, AP Business Solutions has renovated over a dozen homes on behalf of its real estate construction business as well as with partner investors who work with AP Solutions to renovate homes.
What is unique about this mission, is that AP Business Solutions works with Catholic Charities, US Together and International Services Center to provide quality housing for legal refugees relocating to Cleveland’s near westside.  Even more unique is the fact that many of Land Bank Staff the people that help renovate these homes include the very refugees that AP Solutions trains to provide housing.  The benefits to the community are many.
First, distressed homes are renovated and become occupied productive properties.  Second, by working with the refugee service organizations, properly screened refugees are repopulating the City of Cleveland.  These refugees have a high rate of employment, involvement in the community and appreciation for being in the United States coming from oppressive or war-torn areas throughout the world.  Third, many of these refugees are getting trained as skilled tradesmen in home renovation.
“I love this kind of work. It is very gratifying when you can tie your work to an important social contribution to the community,” said Anderson.
As a result the AP Business Solutions “business with a social conscience,” partnered with the Cuyahoga Land Bank to renovate several homes in their inventory.  Among some of the recent projects will be two multi-family small apartment buildings just outside the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood service area.  This is an area particularly desirable and affordable for those clients referred by the refugee service organizations.
One of these projects includes a four suite apartment building donated by Wells Fargo Bank to the Cuyahoga Land Bank which is very suitable for renovation.  “We asked Wells Fargo if it would contribute this foreclosed property in its inventory, and explained the purpose behind the donation. Wells Fargo honored our request and donated this property,” said President and General Counsel Gus Frangos.  Wells Fargo and the Cuyahoga Land Bank have had an ongoing cooperative relationship to re-purpose distressed properties.  For several years, Wells Fargo has donated properties in need of demolition, and has paid the full price for demolition.
Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization Director Jeff Ramsey acknowledged his work with AP Solutions and said, “I wish we had ten more such developers in our neighborhood. They do timely, quality work and maintain the properties in a professional manner.”
The Cuyahoga Land Bank will develop the Wells Fargo donated property in partnership with AP Business Solutions.
Cuyahoga Land Bank Board Chairman Anthony Brancatelli praised the work of the Cuyahoga Land Bank by noting that through the Cuyahoga Land Bank’s relationships, many creative collaborations take place.  “When you consider that the Cuyahoga Land Bank is able to identify quality developers through the CDC network and push banks to cooperate on donating higher value properties, this is a testament to the quality work and reputation of the Cuyahoga Land Bank,” said Brancatelli.

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Posted in 2015.9.1, Newsletter

Thriving Communities Property Survey Battles Urban Decay

This past summer, the nonprofit Thriving Communities Institute (TCI), a program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in collaboration with the City of Cleveland has been surveying the property condition of all 150,000 parcels in Cleveland.  The project is in collaboration with the City of Cleveland’s Building and Housing Department, Cleveland City Council and local community development corporations.  Partial funding for the survey was committed by the Cleveland Foundation. Land Bank Staff
TCI will conclude the city wide survey this fall. TCI has completed community-wide surveys in Akron, East Cleveland, Lorain, Sandusky and Oberlin.  The Cuyahoga Land Bank worked closely with TCI on a prior neighborhood survey targeting blight removal in the Buckeye-Shaker, Mount Pleasant and Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhoods surrounding St. Lukes Campus in Cleveland. These neighborhoods are faced with vacant properties that have become a threat to the community.
The initial neighborhood survey was made possible by the St. Luke’s Foundation which awarded TCI, a two-year grant to target and identify blighted properties in the Buckeye and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods for the St. Luke’s Project, which began in late 2013. By the end of March 2014, a group of seven assessors had walked the streets and surveyed the conditions house-by-house.
The survey covered a total of 13,000 residential and tax-exempt parcels that included 2,000 vacant lots and resulted in identifying 1,500 vacant and distressed properties (map above). These properties were then graded on an A to F scale, describing the of the property. An “A” for those that were in very good condition to an “F” for those structures that were uninhabitable and dangerous.
According to the St. Luke’s Property Inventory Report, the properties were identified as: Occupied structures, A – 28%, B – 47%, C – 23%, D – 2%, and F – 0% and Vacant structures: A – 3%, B – 9%, C – 22%, D – 31%, and F – 35%.Land Bank Staff
Following the survey, the most blighted properties that had a grade of “F” were advocated for demolition.  This initiated the  Cuyahoga Land Bank to play a role in the project.
The Cuyahoga Land Bank then followed to strategically target demolition of these properties and is still working to do so.  TCI continues to advocate for demolition since it will take a fifteen million dollar investment to address all 1,500 target properties from the St. Lukes Project.
“There are several steps that must be taken in order for us to breathe new life into our communities,” said TCI Special Projects Manager, Jay Westbrook.  “The first is identifying the problem and that’s what the St. Luke’s Project has done.  The second is to address the blight through demolition and building code enforcement.  Only after these first two steps have been taken can we successfully redevelop, repurpose and green these properties.

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Posted in 2015.9.1, Newsletter

Thriving Communities Institute | AP Business Solutions – 2015.9.1

NL 9.1.15

Posted in 2015.9.1, Newsletter

Speedway will rise in Berea’s North End, other buildings will come down (cleveland.com)

BEREA, Ohio — A Speedway with room for semi-trailer trucks should rise in Berea’s North End and three nearby city-owned buildings will come down soon in hopes of further development in that area.

After winning a long legal battle against Berea, Speedway has razed the old Toth Buick and gotten a construction permit for a station on the site.

The Speedway should rise soon on the southeast corner of the diagonal intersection of Sheldon Road and North Rocky River Drive near Front Street. It will have some bays big enough for semis. Speedway, based in Enon in downstate Ohio, owns about 2,760 stations in 22 states.

In 2012, the Berea Planning Commission voted 5-2 against Speedway’s proposal, fearing traffic from the semis. Speedway sued in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, where Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold upheld the city. Then a three-judge appeals panel unanimously reversed her. City maneuvers delayed construction a while, but the Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Speedway officials Monday declined to comment on plans for the Berea station.

Meanwhile, the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., better known as the Cuyahoga Land Bank, plans to raze the three buildings for the city, which owns more than 12 acres there and seeks a private developer for it.

Cuyahoga County will pay the land bank $300,000 to demolish the last three buildings standing on city-owned land in the North End: the former Palker Automotive, Mid-City Tire and Automotive Creations. The land bank has razed two other city-owned buildings there in past years.

Matt Madzy, the city’s economic development director, says the land bank has begun testing the three remaining buildings and should raze them in the next couple of weeks.

Despite the semis, Madzy says the North End, which is near Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, rail lines, interstates 71 and 480, the I-X Exposition Center and the Cleveland Browns’ headquarters, should still attract developers.

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Posted in CCLRC in the News, Uncategorized

Guest Editorial: Surveying city properties (WOIO)

My name is Jim Rokakis. I am director of the Thriving Communities Institute, a program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, a land conservation organization in a 17-county footprint in northeast Ohio.

Four years ago, Western Reserve extended its work into urban areas by establishing through thriving communities, where our initial goal was to establish county land banks in northeast Ohio. I established the first land bank in Cuyahoga County in 2009, when I was county treasurer. As a way of dealing with the thousands of distressed properties in our community, we have now established 24 land banks through all of Ohio and raised $240 million to demolish distressed properties in Ohio’s 88 counties.

Currently, we are involved in a door-to-door survey of every property in the city, using trained surveyors who are photographing and rating these properties. If you live in Cleveland, you may have seen or you will see them. They are wearing orange shirts and armed with iPads and working on every street in your neighborhood. When they are finished, Clevelanders will have an accurate count of how many properties are vacant, if they can be rehabilitated, or if they need to be demolished. We are striving to make Cleveland a blight-free city, but need reliable information to be able to do this. We will have that information by the end of summer.

Thank you.

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Cleveland Heights raises awareness for available vacant lots: City Council wrap-up (cleveland.com)

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Officials plan to post most if not all of the 124 city-owned vacant lots around town, although some could be set aside for possible land-banking ventures.

At least half of those lots are available for $100 to adjacent property owners through the “side lot program” that City Council passed in 2012, with four of those parcels having been sold so far.

“We’re trying to get the whole list online, with a picture and an explanation about the status,” Vice City Manager Susanna Niermann O’Neil told City Council at Monday’s (Aug. 10) Committee-of-the-Whole meeting.

Four of those lots have been sold so far, with one of those having been split between neighbors on either side along Cleveland Heights Boulevard. In those instances residents have to hire their own surveyor.

And another 19 residents have filed applications. In all, there are 195 vacant lots in Cleveland Heights, counting those that are privately owned or property of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank.

In a second piece of the strategy, there are parcels that the city wants to retain and possibly consolidate for larger development, such as lots on Superior Road near the Cleveland Heights Community Center, as well as North Coventry Road, Altamont and Desota avenues, and Sycamore Road.

“Right now, our lots are more scattered on North Coventry, but we do have some attractive land that we can assemble and ‘bank’ on Superior Road,” City Manager Tanisha Briley noted.

City officials also retain the right to hold on to any vacant lot that abuts a commercial area.

As for the 62 lots classified as “available,” city officials want to send letters out to neighboring property owners letting them know about the side lot program, although Councilman Kahlil Seren asked if they could hold off for a week so he could take a look at them.

Councilwoman Mary Dunbar said that this amounted to “micro-managing,” while Vice Mayor Cheryl Stephens also felt that Seren’s suggestion to post all 195 vacant lots — not just the ones owned by the city — was unnecessary.

“That’s like trying to sell somebody else’s car,” said Stephens, who works for the county Land Bank. “We don’t want to tie up city staff time doing other people’s due diligence.”

Seren said the focus should be on all lots in the city that are being under-utilized, not just the ones that the city owns, adding that referring people to multiple places and websites is an ordeal.

O’Neil said the objective at this point is “simply to find out if there’s any interest in the side lots,” in hopes of making them “more productive, with no lag time,” and adding that cataloging them has already been “labor-intensive” up to this point.

“Go for it,” Seren said. “This is the first time I’m looking at a list of the city’s vacant lots.

“I obviously don’t have any support on this — although I don’t see why a week is such a problem,” Seren added.

A little over a year ago and before Seren’s appointment to replace Janine Boyd, council voted 5-2 in favor of a townhouse development at the city-owned lot on the corner of Cedar and Coventry roads, a proposal that since has yet to clear the City Planning Commission.

In other business, City Planning Director Richard Wong said that a second home to treat eating disorders could mean another $1 million in payroll for a 12-bed facility for adolescents.

The new center would open up next to the existing one for adults on Overlook Road, where the projected payroll is already $1.7 million.

City Public Works Director Alex Mannarino said that with repaving projects set to go next year on both Cedar and Lee roads next year, work on Coventry Road will probably have to wait until 2017.

And on the heels of last week’s “Town Hall Telephone Meeting” involving more than 900 residents to discuss the city’s one-quarter percent wage tax increase appearing on the November ballot, city officials have another one planned for Aug. 25 at 6:30 p.m.

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Despite cities’ efforts, vacancies persist in South Euclid, Mayfield Heights: The House Next Door (cleveland.com)

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — Driving the streets of Mayfield Heights can be like a real estate time warp.

Rows of near-identical bungalows with window awnings sit on tiny square lots. In 1951, the year Mayfield Heights was incorporated, those bungalows cost about $7,000.

A half century later, styles have changed, but a large part of Mayfield Heights’ housing stock hasn’t. That’s in part why the housing crisis hit the city — like neighboring South Euclid, Lyndhurst and Richmond Heights — especially hard.

Further east in more affluent communities including Gates Mills, Highland Heights and Mayfield village, foreclosed homes take care of themselves. They generally fly off the market before they can become a nuisance.

Nearly a decade after the housing crisis began here, the inner-ring suburbs, the ones that touch Cleveland, still have hundreds of vacancies.Here’s how the numbers looked in the Sun Messenger communities in the last quarter of 2014 and 2010, according to a Western Reserve Land Conservancy analysis of data from the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing:

  • South Euclid: 413, up from 401 in 2010.
  • Richmond Heights: 129, up from 115 in 2010.
  • Mayfield Heights: 126, up from 91 in 2010.
  • Lyndhurst: 95, up from 94 in 2010.
  • Highland Heights: 48, up from 44 in 2010.
  • Gates Mills: 74, up from 57 in 2010.
  • Mayfield: 15, down from 24 in 2010.

Mayfield Heights and South Euclid have introduced new inspection and registration rules that allow city officials to track problem homes, crack down on owners who don’t clean them up or demolish them as a last resort. South Euclid has acquired millions in grants and developed programs to market its neighborhoods, while Richmond Heights has used grant dollars to try and save a street abandoned by the developer.

South Euclid city officials point to a 6-percent increase in home sale prices in 2014, according to data from Keller Williams realty. Mayfield Heights notes a new violation complaint system and four demolitions last year as signs of success. While Richmond Heights has invested in a new economic development director who hopes to tackle vacant commercial and residential real estate.

Mayfield Heights tamps down on negligent owners

The house on Longwood Drive in Mayfield Heights is engulfed in overgrown foliage, shingles are missing from the roof and weeds sprout from cracks in the driveway. In a couple months it will likely be a plot of green space.

The owner stopped caring for it and ignored the countless violations the city delivered to the doorstep, so the city, in partnership with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank has decided to knock down the decrepit structure.

Mayfield Heights began partnering with the land bank, formally the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., last year to tackle eyesores. They demolished four homes in 2014, and in July, City Council approved plans to tear down the Longwood bungalow and another on Mayflower.

Eddie Bednar, who has lived across the street from the Mayflower home since 2006, said it’s been vacant for about four years, with 20-30 cats living inside at one point.

Building Director Tom Jamieson said neighbors like Bednar and concerned council members, who let the city know when there’s a problem, are often the first line of defense against problem houses.

“If there’s a house that’s getting bad, we hear from the neighbors,” said Building Commissioner Tom Jamieson.

Earlier this year a city rolled out a new online reporting system on its website where residents can go to notify the city of misfit properties. The city also registers and tracks foreclosures.

And in an effort to tamp down on flippers who buy deeply discounted, dilapidated homes and sell them to irresponsible owners who exacerbate the problem, council recently increase the amount sellers or buyers must agree to pay to correct violations.

Instead of $15,000, the parties must set aside money equal to the cost of repairs to receive a point-of-sale inspection. 

South Euclid beefs up marketing, community spirit to boost housing stock

Around 2008 Mayor Georgine Welo began building a team to battle the foreclosure crisis that decimated large portions of the bedroom community. South Euclid has founded dozens of programs, raised millions in grant money and partnered with multiple county-wide organizations to deal with the problem.

To market the city as a whole, the city has branded neighborhoods with signs, started a glossy magazine to promote the community, spiffed up streetscapes with planters andcommunity gardens, and is constantly promoting its efforts through other agencies and associations, both regionally and nationally.

The city adopted stricter inspection and registration policies and founded a community development corporation, One South Euclid, with the primary goal of finding permanent owners for abandoned homes.

The city received $1.3 million in grant money in 2009 from the First Suburbs Development Corp. and the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It used the money to fix up five homes, equipped with environmentally friendly amenities including rain barrels, pervious pavement and rain gardens. Some of the funds also went to building community gardens and creating green space.

“The idea was to take a vacant/foreclosed property that would have to be demolished,” Community Services Director Keith Benjamin said. “So we not only saved a home, but in essence we saved a neighborhood.”

Using the newly renovated homes as a sales pitch to potential owner-occupants and investors who promise to sell to owner-occupants, One South Euclid began acquiring and selling vacant houses through the land bank.

“The public money was used to show private investors they can come in and do the same thing — make a profit and help stabilize the neighborhood,” Benjamin said.

The organization offers potential homeowners five-year, 75-percent tax breaks to those who plan to build new, revamp or expand their lots by buying up adjoining parcels where the land bank helped tear down homes too far gone to repair.

One South Euclid sold at least seven homes under these programs, and 16 more are for sale on its website.

Richmond Heights partners with management of ailing mall

The city has been sliding for years, reflected by the financial woes at City Hall and in the school system, its increasingly empty mall and declining population. The housing stock is no exception — 129 homes were vacant in Richmond Heights in 2014 and new residential construction is a rarity.

Richmond Heights also received Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars to install sanitary sewers in a neighborhood abandoned by the developer, and bought, renovated and resold several homes.

Like South Euclid, Economic Development Director Christel Best is hoping to turn the city’s real estate troubles through a new marketing campaign with Richmond Town Square Mall, which lost its anchor store Macy’s earlier this year and several national-brand stores.

The city will promote vacant homes it owns and is trying to sell and available commercial real estate at the mall event Aug. 26, 5-7:30 p.m.

It will also use $100,000 from Cuyahoga County’s property demolition program to tear down nuisance homes. Richmond Heights and South Euclid were among 20 communities to receive demolition dollars from the county earlier this year. South Euclid was awarded $400,000.

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Land bank helps college grads, students buy homes; KnowBase changes name: Local Business Briefs (cleveland.com)

New land bank program helps students, recent grads get discounts on renovated homes

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cuyahoga Land Bank is handing over the keys to the first home sold through the Buying and Retaining Academic Investment Now program to a Cleveland State University student.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank recognized an opportunity to play a role in retaining talent in Cuyahoga County by connecting students and recent graduates with affordable housing, reads a press release.

BRAIN offers eligible students and recent graduates the chance to purchase a newly renovated home at a discount of 15 percent off the purchase price and an additional 5 percent of the purchase price to be applied to closing costs.

To participate in the program, students must either be currently enrolled in a college or post-graduate degree program or submit a BRAIN application within two years of graduation.

Not only do CSU students learn about the BRAIN program, but they also gain information about how to prepare for the purchase of a home. Outreach efforts on campus, including Smart Thinking workshops, put on in partnership with CSU student organization, Cleveland State Transfer Connection, and Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, began this spring.

For more information on BRAIN, visit www.cuyahogalandbank.org/BRAIN.

KnowBase changes name to Roundtable Online Learning

CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio — KnowBase, an online learning solutions provider, has changed its name to Roundtable Online Learning.

According to a press release, the company’s new owner, Cleveland businessman Dan Grajzl, who founded Park Place International and Park Place Technologies, prompted a review of the company’s brand and name. The change, according to him, is a better reflection of the company’s evolution and online learning outcomes.

Roundtable Online Learning also has launched a new website,www.roundtablelearning.com, which features access to information about online learning and provides an experience that reflects the company’s approach.

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Lakewood, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls vacant homes find new owners quickly: The House Next Door (cleveland.com)

LAKEWOOD, Ohio – Most vacant homes in Lakewood don’t stay empty for long, and the same can be said for Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Olmsted Falls and Olmsted Township.

West-side mayors say the reason is a combination of strict code enforcement, in some cases financial assistance, and a strong housing market.

“We’re fortunate in Lakewood that our real estate market is very brisk and has been for the last couple of years,” said Dru Siley, Lakewood’s planning and development director. “There is a demand for all houses regardless of their condition. There is a buyer who sees an opportunity.”

More than 22,000 homes in Cuyahoga County were vacant last fall, years after the end of the housing crisis. The severity of the problem varies, worse in the inner ring suburbs, especially on the east side. But abandoned homes affect everyone in the county, based on the proportion of the tax burden and the millions of tax dollars thrown at the problem.

Determining the number of vacant homes is each city is difficult, but U.S. Postal Service numbers analyzed by the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing and Western Reserve Land Conservancy show trends.

  • Fairview Park’s vacancies remained fairly steady between 2010 and 2014, with 108 vacancies in the fourth quarter of 2010 and 111 in the fourth quarter of 2014.
  • Lakewood saw a decrease from 595 in fourth-quarter 2010 to 366 in fourth-quarter 2014.
  • North Olmsted saw an increase from 163 in fourth-quarter 2010 to 212 in fourth-quarter 2015.
  • Olmsted Falls stayed fairly steady at 57 in fourth-quarter 2010 and 63 in fourth-quarter 2014.
  • Olmsted Township stayed steady at 60 in both fourth-quarter 2010 and fourth-quarter 2014.

Nearly every municipality will step in when grass is overgrown, either cutting the grass itself or hiring a contractor to do the work. Likewise, they will secure homes by boarding up broken windows. The municipalities then bill the owners.


The inner-ring suburb is dense with an old housing stock. Half of the city’s homes were built before 1920. Once the housing crisis struck in 2008, foreclosures created more empty and neglected houses.

While NEOCANDO estimates that in the fourth quarter of 2014, there were more than 360 vacant houses in the city, Lakewood city officials say those numbers appear too high. The city estimates the number of homes empty six months or longer is closer to 100. Four years ago, the number of long-term vacant homes was approximately 200, according to the city.

In 2011, the city launched a proactive approach for neglected houses, Housing Forward, a code enforcement program using a carrot-and-stick approach to bring houses into compliance.

Code enforcement inspectors went to each of the city’s 13,000 single- and two-family homes to identify maintenance code violations. The initial survey found 14 percent — or about 1,800 homes — needed obvious exterior repairs. Today, the city has reduced that number to only about 350 to 400 homes at any one time, Siley said. About 40 of those homes are long-term vacancies; most are occupied.

City inspectors then work with owners to fix violations. The problems could range from overgrown grass to a collapsing garage. If homeowners, frequently senior citizens, need assistance, the city tries to connect them with help. Sometimes LakewoodAlive, a private economic development group, will find volunteers to paint or make minor repairs to a house. The city also can help homeowners find financial assistance for repairs. Funding sources include federal Community Development Block Grant dollars and private lenders.

“That’s really the core to Housing Forward – proactive code enforcement and connecting homeowners to resources,” Siley said.

If homeowners refuse to cooperate, the city law department and Lakewood Municipal Court Judge can force owners to repair their homes or face fines.

If homeowners simply walk away from a house or die without heirs, the city can step in to protect the house until ownership issues can be sorted out and the house put back on the market.

“If no owner or lender will fix the issues, we will make sure the house is secure and weather tight,” Siley said. “We may put a new roof on the house to make sure no damage is occurring to the house, and then we mothball it. We put it in a position where it can withstand a few seasons of being abandoned before someone can buy that home.”

Lakewood has stepped in about 20 times in the last five years to make emergency repairs to a house it doesn’t own, Siley said. It puts a lien on the property to recoup the money eventually.

“We would rather spend $6,000 to $7,000 to put a new roof on a house rather than spend $12,000 to tear it down in a few years because of weather damage,” Siley said.

As a last resort, Lakewood, working with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, can declare an abandoned house a public nuisance and demolish it. However, that’s only happened about 25 times in the last five years, in large part because of the city’s proactive approach to keep properties from deteriorating.

The city can also buy an abandoned property, fix it up, and then sell it to a new buyer. The city has taken this approach about a dozen times in the last three years.

The most recent example is a 91-year-old house on Quail Street in Birdtown. The property was tax delinquent when the city bought it with federal money in 2013 and paid off the tax lien. The city repaired the house inside and out and in July sold it to a refugee family.

The city paid $57,000 for the house, spent $50,000 on renovations, and sold it for $90,000. In the end, the city spent $17,000 subsidizing the renovation, but it prevents an empty house from sitting on the block, where it would damage property values and affect quality of life of other residents, city officials said.

Neighbor Mark Eschenbach, who used to cut the grass when the house sat abandoned, credited the city improving the condition of the property.

“It looks a lot better than it did,” he said. “They kept it pretty well maintained, including putting a new roof on it.”

Olmsted Township

The township hired James McReynolds in June 2014 as the township’s first full-time building commissioner in about five years, and he is working with township trustees to address abandoned and neglected homes.

The township is aware of at about a dozen vacant homes. Township trustees in June created a three-member volunteer nuisance abatement committee – a group of private citizens who patrol the township in search of dilapidated properties.

“They go out and take notes and take photos,” McReynolds said. “We are looking for those houses that stand out as the worst in an area, and they typically are abandoned properties.”

The citizens report their findings to McReynolds, who verifies the violations, and then contacts the property owner with a notice of violation. Foreclosure cases, where a bank takes possession of a house, are especially difficult.

“We have found that banks are reluctant to do anything more than secure a property and occasionally cut the grass,” McReynolds said.

He tries to work with property owners, giving them time to correct violations. However, if they fail to respond, he resorts to correcting the problem, often sending out township workers to cut grass or board up broken windows. The property owner is billed.

“We are not punitive,” McReynolds said. “When we go after legal recourses, it is because it is our last resort.”

The township’s access to legal resources is limited. Unlike cities, which have law departments, the township must rely on the county prosecutor’s office or hire outside counsel for legal assistance with enforcement.

The township recently established a process by which trustees will hear nuisance complaints brought by the building department against a property owner. Trustees will try to resolve the conflict with the homeowner, but if they fail, the case could be referred to Berea Municipal Court for enforcement.

The policy is new, and no cases have yet been referred to the court, McReynolds said.

Fairview Park

In Fairview, Mayor Eileen Patton said the city tracks foreclosures when it becomes aware of them to make sure they don’t fall into disrepair.

Patton said she is not aware of any abandoned or neglected homes, but says the city puts pressure on owners to correct violations.

“When we do, it is a long and tedious process,” she says.

When a bank-foreclosed property is abandoned and falls into disrepair, she contacts the bank involved to demand repairs. She recounted one instance in which she was dealing with a banker from Dubai.

The city, working with the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, demolished one dilapidated house about a year ago. Neighbors are now using the property for green space, she said. That is the only demolition case she could recall.

“We have been very fortunate,” Patton said, attributing the city’s success to its “reputation of not letting people get away with it.”

Olmsted Falls

The city is aware of nine homes that are neglected, Service Director Joe Borczuch said. It can’t say for sure whether they are abandoned.

Mayor Ann Marie Donegan believes problems with neglected homes spiked around 2011. In 2011, the city was aware of 105 homes in foreclosure. In 2014, there were 48.

“We, fortunately, are not on the same level as some inner-ring suburbs,” Mayor Ann Marie Donegan said.

The city tries tracking down owners of problem properties to make repairs. If necessary, the matter can be taken to Berea Municipal Court. In some cases, the city will hire a company to cut the grass, passing along the costs to the property owner.

The city is wrapping up a 10-year-old case involving not a home but vacant property where old buses, bulldozers, excavators, backhoes, and other pieces of equipment were stored. The case started in Berea Municipal Court and has worked its way up through the 8th District Court of Appeals. The city received a decision in late spring that will allow it to go in and clean out the property, Donegan said.

North Olmsted

The city doesn’t collect data on vacant homes, but has a comprehensive exterior maintenance program that applies to every house, said Planning and Development Director Kim Wenger.

When the city becomes aware of a house where the grass is not being cut and homeowners don’t respond to notices of violation, the city will send contractors to cut the grass and bill the property owner. If not paid, the bill is tacked onto property taxes, she said.

“I don’t think we pinpoint foreclosures and vacancies as major issues,” Wenger said.

Instead the city works with homeowners to correct any problems.

She could only think of a couple of instances in previous years in which houses had to be demolished because of their dilapidated conditions.

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Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights fight blight: The House Next Door (cleveland.com)

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – On North Coventry Road, just a stroll from the famed Coventry Village, Cleveland Heights may try something it has never tried before – rebuild a neighborhood.

North Coventry, which runs from Mayfield Road north into East Cleveland, is dotted with empty residential lots. That’s because the city has been partnering with East Cleveland and Cuyahoga Land Bank to tear down more than 60 dilapidated, vacant houses.

Since late 2013, about 55 North Coventry houses have been leveled. Because of the large number of bare lots concentrated in one area, the city may sell the land to a residential builder or developer.

“It’s new ground, an aberration that came up due to the recession,” said Rick Wagner, housing programs manager for Cleveland Heights. “We want to clean up the blight, then look at redevelopment.”

The project is one of a variety of measures cities have taken to deal with older, deteriorating homes that have either been foreclosed on, abandoned or both.

More than 22,000 homes in Cuyahoga County were vacant last fall, years after the end of the housing crisis. The severity of the problem varies — it’s worse in the inner ring suburbs, especially on the east side.

But county government, through its new Property Demolition Program, has pledged $50 million — its biggest sum ever — to tackle the blight. In April, the program awarded Cleveland Heights $556,000 to tear down 49 vacant and dilapidated houses. Shaker Heights was given $885,000 to demolish 20 houses and commercial buildings, including the former Qua Buick dealership on Warrensville Center Road.

In North Coventry, about $2 million for demolitions came from the state and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. It was part of the settlement of a 2012 federal lawsuit against five mortgage providers that loaned money without vetting borrowers.

“It’s new ground, an aberration that came up due to the recession.”

All of these programs, along with an improved housing market, are making a dent.

According to U.S. Postal Service data, analyzed by the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing and the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, the number of vacant homes in Cleveland Heights dropped roughly from 834 in 2010 to 709 in 2014.

In Shaker Heights, the number of vacant homes fell from roughly 305 in 2010 to 215 in 2014, according to NEO CANDO. The number dropped from 151 to 87 in University Heights and from 56 to 47 in Beachwood.

Cleveland Heights

Cleveland Heights demolished 15 homes in 2008 and as many as 31 in 2012. Last year, the city knocked down 21.

The city doesn’t have to own a deteriorating house to bulldoze it. If the owner doesn’t respond to violation notices or show up in housing court, City Council can formerly declare the house a nuisance, which under state law and municipal code allows the city to demolish it. The city tacks the demolition cost onto the property owner’s tax bill.

Helping fund the demolition program is a one-time $2.3 million grant from the federalNeighborhood Stabilization Program. The city received the grant about five years ago and is still using the money. In addition to demolitions, the city obtained, rehabilitated and sold another 14 houses, thanks to the grant.

The Cuyahoga Land Bank also pays for house demolitions. Cleveland Heights first partnered with the land bank in 2011 in the DeSota Avenue neighborhood, where 16 houses have been taken down so far.

The land bank and city have shared demolition costs of larger commercial buildings, including the old Medic Drug at Noble and Glenwood roads and the former Clark gas station at Noble and Roanoke Road.

Taking ownership

Sometimes, cities like Cleveland Heights can take ownership of a house, then repair and sell it. Here’s how:

If a property falls into tax foreclosure, the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office tries to auction it off. A property that doesn’t sell is forfeited to the state of Ohio.

The county Fiscal Office offers the property at two more public auctions. If the house doesn’t sell at the first auction, the county can reduce the price to rock bottom at the second – or transfer the property to its home city.

Once Cleveland Heights obtains a property, the city’s informal Vacant Lot Committee, made of Wagner and other administrators, decides what to do with it. The city can tear down the house, divide the lot and give the land to neighbors.

The city might also rehab a house, using federal money and following federal guidelines. The city hires the lowest-bidding contractor, which must correct all violations, install modern appliances and make the house energy-efficient.

“It’s as good as a new home,” Wagner said.

Then the city sells the house, at market price, to an owner-occupier.

Shaker Heights

Shaker Heights also rehabs and sells vacant homes through the city’s Shaker Renovator Program.

Kamla Lewis, Shaker’s director of neighborhood revitalization, said 19 houses have been renovated through the program since it started in 2011. Most have been sold, and three are now on the market. The renovator program has added more than $4 million of new residential tax value, Lewis sad.

“It was one of the key Shaker programs aimed at leveraging private investment into the housing stock,” Lewis said.

But the process in Shaker is a little different than in Cleveland Heights.

For example, CAP Construction LLC is now renovating a vacant house on Winchell Road. The city obtained the house after it fell into tax foreclosure. Lewis said the structure is sound but the interior was a mess, with several violations.

But the city didn’t hire CAP; it sold the house to the firm for $1.

In exchange, CAP must correct all violations. The company must install new electrical lines, water pipes, heating and air conditioning systems, insulation, windows, landscaping and a security system. CAP must also rebuild the back porch.

The estimated cost of the renovation is $100,00-$125,000. When CAP is done, it must sell the house to an owner-occupier, under the company’s contract with the city.

CAP owner Anthony Paciorek, who has done five previous home renovations for Shaker, said people ask him if he’s going to flip the house – fix it on the cheap and sell it for a handsome profit. But the city contract won’t allow shortcuts, and that’s fine with him.

“I love doing it,” Paciorek said. “We’re doing the job like I’m moving my own family in here.”

Staying in front

Lewis said Shaker Heights, through interaction with residents, saw the foreclosure crisis happening long before it was declared.

In the early 2000s, when city inspectors issued housing violation notices, they became acquainted with the property owners. City officials learned some of these residents had mortgages involving subprime loans with high interest rates and unreasonable repayment terms.

So in 2006, Shaker performed a foreclosure and lending study. It showed that subprime loans were closely connected to refinancing and foreclosure. Alarmed city officials, seeing vacant houses on the horizon, believed they had to do something.

“Early action from the city was critical,” Lewis said.

The city already had some housing programs in place, including:

  • A homeowner education program. The city teaches homeowners how to handle, or stay out of, foreclosure.
  • A tenant-screening program. Many landlords don’t know that tenant-screening companies exist. The companies evaluate a prospective tenant’s ability to pay the rent and take care of a rental property. The city solicits proposals from tenant-screening firms and finds discounted rates for landlords.
  • A nuisance-abatement program. If gutters are hanging off a house, of if the grass is high, the city will repair and landscape, whether the house is occupied or not. The city bills the property owner directly, and if that doesn’t work, adds the cost to their taxes. To pay for the program upfront, the city borrows by issuing bonds.
  • Point-of-sale inspections. Before a title is transferred, an inspection must identify all violations, and either the seller must correct violations before the sale or the buyer must assume responsibility.

As a result of the foreclosure and lending study, the city:

  • Created a landlord-training program. Landlords learn to manage their properties, screen tenants and comply with fair housing laws and eviction procedures.
  • Passed a vacant-property ordinance. Criminals damaged or moved into some vacant houses. Neighbors complained but police were helpless – legally, they needed the owner or owner representative to say the criminal had no permission to be there. So City Council passed an ordinance saying that if the city declares a house a nuisance, and the owner is absent, the city has custody of the property and can protect it from, and prosecute, invaders.
  • Enacted a nuisance property law. If the owner doesn’t correct violations, the city can tear a house down and –like Cleveland Heights – give the land to neighbors. In one case the city obtained a lot and sold it to Heights Christian Church, which installed a community garden and labyrinth.
  • Hired a vacant property monitor. This full-time worker checks vacant properties for bushes that need trimming, grass that needs mowing or paint that is flaking. If the problem isn’t fixed, the property goes into the nuisance abatement program.
  • Established a foreclosure-filing fee. If a bank forecloses on a house, it must pay the city $150 — $300 if the money comes in late. The paper work gives the city a person it can contact to make sure the bank cares for the property while it’s vacant. The city then tracks the property and, working with the bank, determines if the house needs demolished.

“We have a history of being proactive,” Lewis said.

University Heights

University Heights, on its website, touts itself as the “city of beautiful homes.”

Eric Tuck-Macalla, building commissioner for University Heights, says the low number of homes in distress – only five or six properties in the city, he said – supports that title.

Nevertheless, those five or six homes are a concern for Macalla, who started with the city a year ago. He recently established a nuisance abatement program for University Heights.

Through the program, City Council can declare a house a nuisance, which allows the city to cut the grass or pick up garbage. If necessary, the city hires a contractor to make repairs, or the city can tear down the house.

So far, two University Heights residential properties have been declared nuisances. The Cuyahoga Land Bank tore down one of those houses.

Sometimes a company or investor buys a vacant house. Macalla doesn’t worry about the company flipping the property; he’s just happy the city has a contact person because it increases the chances the lot will be maintained.


Beachwood officials did not return calls. The city had 47 vacancies during the fourth quarter of 2014, according to NEOCANDO.

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Middleburg, Brook Park, Berea may demolish more homes (photos) (cleveland.com)

MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio — Leaders of three southwestern suburbs expect soon to demolish more neglected homes.

Middleburg City Council voted last month to authorize demolitions if necessary of three homes on Engle, Pearl and Fowles roads. Building Commissioner Norm Herwerden says the Engle homeowner has made some repairs and might be able to save the house. Herwerden expects the other two to be razed this year.

Each of the three cities has demolished three or more decaying homes in the past few years. Mayor Gary Starr of Middleburg, where five homes were razed last year, says demolition “sends a message to owners that want to damage their neighborhoods: ‘We are going to protect against any collapse of our property values.’ Once your neighborhoods start deterioration, it’s impossible to go back and fix it. Let us be aware of what’s happening and stop it now.”

Officials say the typical demolished home had been neglected and vacant for a while. It might have belonged to a bank, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a dead owner’s estate or to an absent, unresponsive owner. It may have been beset with leaks, trash, mildew, vermin and more.

For the past few years, the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, commonly known as the Cuyahoga Land Bank, has demolished decrepit homes for Berea and Middleburg and tried to recoup the cost from the owner. Other decaying homes there have been razed by the owners.

In Brook Park, Mayor Tom Coyne returned to office last year and hired a private contractor to raze three homes for about $12,000 apiece. He says the city has about 300 endangered homes, and he hopes to raze six to eight more of them soon.

In Berea, new private homes have been created on three of the demolition sites and a neighborhood garden on a fourth. Developers have bought some of the cleared sites in Middleburg and expressed interest in Brook Park.

Coyne says the biggest hurdles are loans. “The interest rates are great, but it’s still very hard to get money.”

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What exactly is a land bank? Glossary for The House Next Door (cleveland.com)

 Confused about how exactly foreclosure works, or what a land bank does?

No worries. Northeast Ohio Media Group assembled a glossary of vacant home terms, to help you navigate the topic with aplomb.

Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp: The quasi-governmental nonprofit debuted in 2009 to acquire foreclosed and abandoned properties to reduce blight, increase surrounding property values and improve neighbors’ quality of life. Homes and properties flow through constantly, acquired mostly through tax foreclosures, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and government-owned housing lender Fannie Mae.

The land bank, as its commonly called, has helped renovate about 1,100 homes and demolish about 3,500 crumbling properties.

Mortgage foreclosure: If you can’t pay the mortgage on your house, your mortgage company or bank can file foreclosure.

Cuyahoga County saw more than 8,000 foreclosures filings in 2014, according to the Northeast Ohio Community and Neighborhood Data for Organizing, a program of Case Western Reserve University.

Mortgage companies file foreclosures in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, and the court must send out a notification to the homeowner of the allegations against them. That could take months, because sometime the homeowner doesn’t live at the home, or doesn’t take mail.

After the notification is received the homeowner has 28 days to respond. If they do file a response, the case could go to mediation or be dragged through years of legal back and forth. If they don’t respond then by default, they admit that they owe the money, Cuyahoga County Chief Magistrate Stephen Bucha III said.

Without a response, a hearing is scheduled to hear the allegations, and a magistrate decides whether to recommend foreclosure. After a two-week window where the homeowner could file objections — Cuyahoga County waits three weeks, though, to allow for extra time — the case goes to a judge, who weighs the magistrate’s recommendation, and ultimately decides whether the bank can foreclose. That means the bank seizes the ownership of the home.

Tax foreclosure: The process is similar to mortgage foreclosures, but Cuyahoga County – which collects property taxes – acts as the bank. Typically, if you are at least two years delinquent on your property taxes, the county lists your name, and the amount owed against the property in the newspaper as a public notice in November. Then the county can file foreclosure proceedings in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.

Board of Revision foreclosures: If a property overdue on its property taxes is certified as vacant, it becomes a candidate for a Board of Revision foreclosure. This special process fast-tracks the foreclosure procedures, and can shave between four to six month off the process, said Colleen Majewski, the supervisor of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Office tax foreclosure unit.

Sheriff’s sale: A public auction where foreclosed properties are sold to the highest bidder. The money recouped from the sale goes to pay the liens against the property. If the property is in a bank foreclosure, the minimum bid must be two-thirds of the appraised value. If the property is in tax foreclosure, the minimum bid must be the amount owed in taxes plus court costs. It also wipes the property clean of most remaining liens.

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Trial for owners of of condemned apartments around Shaker Square could open July 2 (cleveland.com)

Municipal Court Housing Division officials are already impressed with the turnout of interested observers in the case of two condemned apartment buildings overlooking Shaker Square.

And up to now, that’s just been for the pre-trial conferences.

It’s a trend that Jay Westbrook with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute would like to see continue with the actual trial set to open Thursday (July 2).

“I was told that this has been the most organized, persistent community presence they’ve seen in the courtroom in 20 years,” Westbrook, a former Cleveland City Councilman, said at the June 25 Shaker Square Alliance meeting.

The buildings in question are located at 13020 Drexmore Road and 2804 South Moreland, owned by Shakertown Apartments, a limited liability corporation.

The limits of that liability could now be determined in the courtroom of Judge Raymond Pianka, where the owners have been presenting proposals to transfer the deeds or bring someone on board to finally fix the buildings up.

Shaker Square Area Development Corp. Board President George Palda remains unconvinced that this proposal is going to work.

“I’m troubled by the fact that Paul Gabrail was a willing buyer and was rebuffed,” Palda said. “Why wouldn’t you accept the offer with the most money?”

Gabrail owns the Shaker Square Apartments and said earlier he has made three offers on the buildings.

Ohio Fair Lending Coalition Director Chip Bromley explained that unlike cities such as Cleveland Heights, which can take neglected buildings into receivership, Cleveland pursues criminal charges and fines.

Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner and state Representative Mary Boyle noted that the buildings would probably qualify for tax credits and other funding possibilities for much-needed improvements — if an owner was so inclined.

The Shakertown trial will begin July 2 at 9 a.m. in Courtroom 13-B of the Cleveland Municipal Court Building, 1200 Ontario Street.

Meanwhile, over on Larchmere Boulevard, the long-vacant Sedlak building is in what is known as a 30-day “Redemption Period,” after no bids were received at a Sheriff’s Sale on June 8.

But at the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, they’re still saying it’s too soon to celebrate, because the property has not been conveyed to the county yet,” Bromley said.

The Redemption Period allows for the transfer of the property, and also provides incentive to involve a new purchaser.

“Then hopefully sometime in July we can jump up and down,” if the long-awaited transfer to the county Land Bank becomes official, Bromley added.

Bill Whitney, Chief Operating Officer for the county Land Bank, expressed guarded optimism shortly after the Sheriff’s Sale, saying that he has seen too much legal maneuvering over the past three years to claim victory yet.

And while it’s not a done deal yet, Shaker Square Alliance officials learned Tuesday that the proposed Woodland-Larchmere Commercial Historic District has been recommended by the Ohio Historic Site Preservation Advisory Board for official designation.

Consultants Wendy Hoge Naylor and Diana Wellman said the Ohio Historic Preservation Office will now now forward documents to the National Park Service which will review the proposed listing over the next 2-3 months.

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Today’s Land Bank Boom Could Lead to the Extinction of Land Banks (Next City)

Frank Alexander wasn’t expecting his book, Land Banks and Land Banking, to wind up so big.How the Zombie House Crisis Mutated and What Cities Are Doing About It

“In 2010, when we created the Center for Community Progress one of the reasons we did so, Dan Kildee and I, is [because] we could not keep up with the demand, the calls we were getting about vacant and abandoned properties, or requests for help for drafting legislation,” says Alexander, an Emory law professor. “The 2011 [book] was purely a defensive measure on my part as a way of getting information out there so I didn’t say the same thing on a telephone call everyday.”

But it has been that big. As Next City columnist Alexis Stephens has pointed out, only five states passed land bank legislation from 1971 to 2008. Yet eight states have passed such laws just since 2011. Delaware might be ninth to join the pack in the coming weeks. Alexander’s report has been regarded the principal text on the topic during this land bank boon, and it serves as a free, downloadable template for lawmakers working on drafting land bank legislation of their own.

According to Center for Community Progress, there were only a “handful” of land banks in 2005. In 2011, they counted 79; today, there are approximately 120. The surge is part of the reason Alexander wrote a new edition, released today — to provide more background on land banking’s evolution and the newer examples that have sprung forth.

Alexander lightheartedly describes himself a “Georgia dirt lawyer.” But if Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan is to be hailed as the father of the modern land bank movement, perhaps Alexander, his fellow Center of Community Progress co-founder, should be regarded as its architect.

But just because Alexander is one of land banking’s most prominent champions doesn’t mean that he’s advocating for its permanence. In fact, he hopes that as decades pass, they’ll fade from cities entirely.

As the movement has grown in recent years, observers have pondered how powerful a tool land banks can be. This question will always be a hazy one because the services land banks can offer are always contingent upon their authority, and how that authority is exercised.

For instance, Ohio is one of the only states that allows land banks to be involved in code enforcement. How this enhanced purview plays out in Cleveland is that the Cuyahoga Land Bank “blocks speculators, ensures that responsible occupants take control of homes, and holds home rehabilitations to proper standards,” according to HUD.

The book aims, in light of such nuances, to better inform readers about the statutes behind those powers, and how to craft them to their locality’s best advantage.

To understand why Alexander hopes these tactics expire one day, this warning from the new edition of Land Banks and Land Banking is a good place to start:

“There is a dangerous tendency for local governments to look at land banks as the complete solution to the challenges they face. Such a dream, however, is often neither accurate with respect to the underlying facts nor realistic with respect to the necessary solutions. If a local government lacks the internal capacity to manage substandard properties, then creating a land bank whose staff will consist of the existing city agencies or departments will not change the outcome.”

Land banks actually will show their ultimate utility, Alexander contends, as a tool to diagnose governmental and policy weaknesses that make the fight against land vacancy more difficult — where tax reform might be needed, which agencies aren’t quite working in concert together or which metros should be working on the dilemma as a region, to give a few examples. With these problems more visible, officials and lawmakers should be able to rectify them, leading to new statutes and more efficient agencies to foster a healthier built environment.

And so, that ideal necessitates that successful land banks will spur their own obsolescence down the line. “Our hope is that one day land banks, and land banking — in all jurisdictions — will be in a position to declare victory and dissolve themselves as independent governmental entities,” the report reads.

But beyond this, Alexander is clear that his ideal is just that, an ideal: “One of the fascinating things about human nature is its infinite creativity, but what lies within its infinite creativity is the infinite capacity to screw up.” He adds, “We try to structure land banks to minimize the risk of human error and human bad judgement, and we do that by insisting on full transparency … but nonetheless there will be some strange decisions made. What we’re trying to do at Community Progress is constantly learn from all the land banks.”

The questions that go along with Alexander’s template are huge: What are the city’s community development goals? What type of governmental entity will the land bank technically be? How will auctions take place? These issues, the report asserts, must be tailored to the community’s needs. And Alexander knows well that that’s the tricky part.

“I have the luxury, in a sense, of sitting back and drafting the state legislation,” says Alexander. “But the real hard work happens on the local level when you have a particular piece of property … the tough work is ‘Okay, now we’ve got the inventory, we’ve got the power. Are we ready to move forward?‘”

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Rocky River to apply for $3 million state grant for Center Ridge Road traffic study (cleveland.com)

The city is applying for a $3 million state grant to pay for a traffic study on Center Ridge Road.

The study is necessary to upgrade traffic signals and keep up with new development on the busy road that connects commercial, school and residential areas, Mayor Pamela Bobst said.

“We want to support the investments we see today and future investments in the area by having a roadway that functions well,” the mayor said.

A new $29 million 264-unit high-end apartment building at Wooster Road opened to residents in 2014. Goldwood Primary School is on Center Ridge, as is Westgate Town Center. The city has also received a $304,000 grant from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank to tear down the old Executive Club at 21330 Center Ridge, a site that Bobst said is almost 2 acres of prime commercial real estate.

“The study will analyze traffic flow and do a traffic count along Center Ridge Road, where we have a lot of points of egress and ingress and a lot of curb cuts,” Bobst said. “We want a good, safe traffic flow and accessibility to our high traffic areas and adjacent residential areas.”

The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency denied the city’s application for similar funding a year ago, but the mayor is hopeful that this year will be different.

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Survey of All Cleveland Properties Nearly Finished (WCPN)

by Nick Castele

A survey of every property in the city of Cleveland is nearing completion. The project will take a snapshot of the city’s housing seven years after the financial crisis.

For years, Cleveland has tried to estimate just how many houses and buildings in the city are vacant, abandoned or falling down—a legacy of the foreclosure crisis and the steep loss of population the city has experienced.

The 2013 American Communities Survey by the U.S. Census estimates 21.5 percent of Cleveland’s housing units are vacant. The non-profit Thriving Communities Institute set out to do its own count.

This summer, the group sent teams of people through the city to photograph and record the condition of each property. They’re expected to finish their survey this week.

“It’s not an entirely gloomy picture,” Thriving Communities director Jim Rokakis said. “There are some very stable neighborhoods in the city.”

He said surveyors found some neighborhoods were in better shape than the city predicted, and others were worse off.

“We’re also getting other information,” Rokakis said, “trying to overlay, do an overlay of crime data, an overlay of health data, to get a complete picture of just what all this housing data means.”

The full report will be finished in about a month, Rokakis said. The institute finished a report on properties the suburb of East Cleveland, and is also working on a survey in Dayton.

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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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