Mayors, city managers discuss possible county land bank (The News Herald)

Former Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis spoke to the Lake County Mayors and City Managers Association Monday about the possibility of creating a County Land Bank to help deal with foreclosed and abandoned properties.

Rokakis is now director of the Cleveland-based Western Land Conservancy Thriving Communities Institute. When he was county treasurer, he worked with the Ohio General Assembly to authorize the creation of county land banks in 2008.

County land banks are entrepreneurial organizations that combine attributes of a government entity and a private enterprise, Rokakis said, adding they are not county agencies.

They have a mission to accumulate vacant and abandoned properties by various and versatile methods. Once accumulated, the property can be held by the county land bank, tax free, until the land can be put back to productive use.

Land banks are in place in Cuyahoga, Lucas, Montgomery and Trumbull counties and under way in Hamilton County, Rokakis said. There also is interest in Erie, Stark, Summit and Mahoning counties.

“The benefits of land banking include stopping speculation and flipping, stabilization of housing and tax bases, improving quality of life and advances urban planning,” he said.

One in every 552 housing units in Lake County received a foreclosure filing in May, according to RealtyTrac, which publishes the largest database of foreclosure, auction and bank-owned homes in the country for investors and homebuyers.

In some Northeast Ohio communities, banks have stopped foreclosure on homes where the owner is more than 90 days behind on a mortgage payment because banks doesn’t want to be responsible for upkeep of the property, Rokakis said.

According to state law, establishment of a county land bank is something that could be done by county commissioners, who would need to pass a resolution to create it. The county treasurer would incorporate it and then a board of directors would be created.

That board — comprised of the county treasurer, two commissioners, a member from the largest city, a township member and others chosen by agreement of treasurer and two commissioners — then would create a land utilization plan for adoption by county commissioners and implement programming activities.

Commissioner Daniel P. Troy said he has discussed the concept with Rokakis and indicated the next step was to talk with county Treasurer John S. Crocker, whom Rokakis indicated he had.

“It was a very good discussion,” Rokakis said.

Funding for a land bank would come from a collection of 5 percent of delinquent property tax collections, penalties and interest, grants and other sources.

Land bank acquisitions would come from tax foreclosures, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, government-sponsored entities such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, bank real estate properties, deeds in lieu of foreclosures, and gifts or donations.

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