Lorain County eyes land bank; Ritenauer, Brinda hope to stop blight of foreclosed homes (The Morning Journal)

LORAIN — Lorain and Elyria’s new mayors hope a land bank program can counter foreclosures and vacant properties.

Meanwhile, a foundation grant will pay for Erie County to start a similar program.

The program has taken root in Ohio’s urban counties and is spreading as local officials look to combat the effects of foreclosed homes that are abandoned and become eyesores — and potential dangers — in communities.

Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer and Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda both touted the idea as part of their campaigns last year.

The new mayors this week said they expect more discussion of a Lorain County land bank once their respective cities have 2012 budgets in place.

“This is certainly a key issue for the city of Lorain and the city of Elyria and really the entire county,” Ritenauer said. “I want to move on this.”

The land bank started in Cuyahoga County and the state legislature has approved laws allowing land banks in counties with populations of 60,000 or more, said Jim Rokakis, former Cuyahoga County treasurer. Rokakis now directs the Thriving Communities Institute of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy and is a leading advocate for county land banks.

Land banks are in place or in the works in Montgomery, Lucas, Trumbull, Warren, Mahoning, Hamilton, Summit, Stark, Lake and Erie counties, Rokakis said.

When a property goes into foreclosure, it may go to a county sheriff’s sale; if there are no buyers, the property can sit vacant, which can lead to deterioration, Rokakis said.

When buildings decay, it hurts the values of neighboring properties, he said.

The land bank is a quasi-public corporation governed by the two county commissioners, the county treasurer and representatives from the largest city and township in the county.

The land bank can take and hold foreclosed properties until they can be resold to new owners, Rokakis said. The sales of properties generate revenue to maintain the sites, he added.

“It will certainly be a benefit in Lorain County,” Rokakis said.

Erie County in 2010 had 548 foreclosures filed at Erie County Common Pleas Court.

The Sandusky-Erie County Community Foundation late last year awarded a grant of $40,000 to the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to start the Erie County Land Reutilization Corporation. The money also comes from the Randolph J. and Estelle M. Dorn and Frost-Parker foundations.

The foundation traditionally awards grants for community charitable and arts programs.

The grant for a land bank “is a little bit different,” said foundation Executive Director Anna J. Oertel.

“That’s one of the reason we like it,” she said. “It’s an innovative solution to a problem that’s affecting not only Erie County, but other communities.”

Erie County could become the smallest county yet to start a land bank, Rokakis said. However, smaller cities and rural areas are not immune from abandoned properties, Oertel said.

Erie County Commissioner Pat Shenigo agreed the abandoned properties have the potential to become a “cancer” in neighborhoods.

“We have some properties that are already in our sights,” he said.

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