Cuyahoga Land Bank Participates in Channel 5’s Building Better Neighborhoods Series

In an unprecedented showing of collaboration and mutual support, WEWS News Channel 5, Cleveland’s local ABC-TV affiliate, sponsored an hour-long town hall forum as part of their “Building Better Neighborhoods” series on March 1st.bbn
Gus Frangos, President of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, was a key participant in the prime-time documentary that spotlighted efforts to rescue northeast Ohio’s communities from blight. Frangos was joined by Jim Rokakis, Director of Thriving Communities Trust and a co-founder of the Cuyahoga Land Bank; Chris Warren, Cleveland’s Chief of Regional Development; U.S. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge; Chase Ritenauer, Mayor of Lorain; Donald Plusquellic, Mayor of Akron; and Cleveland Council Members Matt Zone and Tony Brancatelli, among many others.
Mayor Plusquellic mentioned that Akron has been demolishing deteriorating houses, using Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, since 1978. But with land banking, communities can buy dilapidated homes, demolish them and build new ones. “The cost [of blight] is so dramatic-to the neighborhood, to the City at large,” he said, adding that in Akron, one in every 34 homes is abandoned.
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer pointed out that Lorain’s City Council had just approved measures supporting a new land bank in Lorain County. “We’re developing an abandoned housing registry,” he said. “In the past, it was a shotgun approach, and neighborhoods don’t really see a benefit from that. With a land bank, we can address the problem strategically.”
Chris Warren, Cleveland’s chief of regional development, endorsed the land bank movement as a “vehicle for abandoned properties, either mothballed for future development or repurposed.” He informed viewers of the City’s Vacant Property Task Force, a group whose mission was “not getting rid of houses, but rebuilding neighborhoods.”
Frank Ford, Senior Vice President at Neighborhood Progress, Inc. (NPI), manned computers during the program and responded to frustrated viewers who emailed for advice. They kept him busy: “Municipalities that didn’t have this problem until recently are experiencing what Cleveland experienced five, seven years ago,” he said.
Rokakis talked about the Ohio Attorney General’s $75 million commitment to demolition in Ohio. “It will bring value back to these neighborhoods,” he said. “This problem is finite and solvable.”
Gus Frangos, President of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, explained while some communities had been practicing a form of land banking for years, the modern version is like, “land banks on steroids. It’s an aggressive tool. A funding stream was created and a strategy for taking down vacant properties was developed. It’s a matter of removing the bad apples from the basket-and it has an immediate impact on the neighborhood.”
So far, Frangos added, the Cuyahoga Land Bank has demolished more than 700 properties. “We clear out blight but we do it on a very strategic basis, in a controlled setting. The challenge is trying to repurpose that land.”
Cleveland Council Member Matt Zone told viewers that blight can be prevented, too, by “reaching out to residents, looking for early symptoms…There are resources out there.” Judge Eileen T. Gallagher of Cuyahoga Common Pleas Court added that viewers in foreclosure should contact the county’s Foreclosure Mediation Program for help. “You stay in that home,” she advised. “A foreclosure notice is not an eviction notice.”

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