Cuyahoga County Land Bank creates neighborhood smiles (News Net 5)

Watching the two homes next door to their house on the west side’s Camden Avenue slowly deteriorate, Jim and Bonnie Walker could only wait out their regression. One home was purchased, slowly rebuilt, but the other fell into foreclosure according to Jim. Its interior filled with black mold forcing the city of Cleveland to declare it unfit for living, tabling it for demolition.

That day finally came.

“My wife called me one day and said they were tearing it down,” said Jim. “I couldn’t wait to jump on it and see if we could pick it up.”

“We wanted both houses because they both were in terrible shape,” said Bonnie Walker. “But, thanks to the Land Bank people, we couldn’t be happier that we got this and now it’s everything we wanted for a yard.”

The Side Lot Program is something Lilah Zautner, Manager of Special Projects and Land Reuse for the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation, does many things for home owners tired of neighboring, abandoned houses, helping to raise property values, and increasing the local county tax base for Cuyahoga county.

“It’s taking the home out and putting roots in,” said Zautner. “Home owners can purchase properties next to their home. They make play spaces, they add on additions to their home, they put in garages, they create beautiful yards. It adds value to their home. It also beautifies the neighborhood and then it puts vacant properties back on the tax rolls, which is a win-win situation.”

Bonnie is simply happy to have a yard, now completely fenced in to the tune of around $4,000 and Jim’s hard labor, but it’s much more safe now for quick-moving grandchildren.

“They just love it. And it’s safe since it’s all fenced in, it’s safe for them and I don’t have to worry about them. They can’t get out as easily. The grandkids are 10, 9, 8 and 4 so it’s great and now my daughters come over a lot more and they can put the kids out and we can relax and have a good time and talk while bonding without worrying about the kids yelling mommy,” laughed Bonnie.

Zautner said the program has been a huge success for many more families than just the Walkers.

“It really helps residents as their families expand while beautifying the neighborhood, restoring the urban edge, as these properties that can longer be saved are coming down making way for new development like the Walker’s property. We have many folks just like that. We have done 167 side yards so far, many of them are just like those folks. They have put in many hours of energy, love and money into their yards. It’s so great to see where a house just sat there degrading and now it’s just gorgeous with fresh grass, nice fencing, and beautiful landscaping. It’s awesome to see what people can create if you just give them more space,” said Zautner. “It increases the value of their home and the homes around them.”

“I actually had my taxes lowered because of the decreased value from both of the houses next to me before. They were in that bad of shape,” said Jim Walker.

The process took about six months for the Walkers to obtain the rights to the property. The final bill? “$100,” said Walker. “That’s it. The rest was all my money and my both of our labor.”

“If you’re interested in the Side Lot Program, or any of the programs that the Cuyahoga Land Bank offers you can go to www.cuyahogalandbank.org and the phone is 216-698-8853,” said Zautner.

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