Cuyahoga, Lake Counties continue fight against nuisance properties (News-Herald)

Cuyahoga County Council members and the administration spent much of 2014 working out the details of a plan to remove blighted and abandoned structures in what Councilman Pernel Jones called the “foreclosure capital of the nation.”

It’s estimated there are 12,000 such properties in the county.

In October, County Council members approved a plan to make $50 million available to its communities to remove these structures. Both residential and commercial properties can be removed through this program.

Community representatives met with the county in November to learn how the program will work and are now creating lists of properties to include in their requests for demolition funding. The deadline for applications is Feb. 27.

To qualify for demolition, structures must be certified as vacant, abandoned and nuisance properties.

In Euclid, the housing department is asking for suggestions from City Council on which properties should be targeted for the program.

At a City Council meeting in December, Director of Planning & Development Jonathan Holody said he was unsure of the timeline for when the city’s application would be processed and when they would receive the funding.

“I know there is a lot of interest county wide for this program,” Holody said. “The county department of development has thus far been moving very quickly to roll out this program, so I would expect they’re going to get funding available as quick as possible.”

Holody said his hope is to see some activity by the spring or summer.

Structures on the recently acquired former Lakeshore Chevrolet site on 185th Street are among those being considered for the list.

In Richmond Heights, Economic Development Director Christel Best said the city will be asking for funds to demolish a Chardon Road gas station that has been abandoned since 2006. The city already has plans to remediate the site through a $200,000 EPA Brownfield Cleanup Grant.

The city is also planning on asking for funds for home demolitions. In the summer, five nuisance properties were identified. Three of the houses are on Highland Road, one is on Cary Jay Boulevard and one is on Richmond Park West.

The funding will be available to the communities in rounds. In the first round, municipalities can apply for up $1 million for projects, with no more than $100,000 being awarded for any individual structure. The maximum amount allocated per applicant may change in subsequent rounds, but will not exceed $2 million.

John Rogers, executive director of the Lake County Land Reutilization Corp., also known as the county Land Bank, said there are a still a significant number of foreclosures in his county.

“I don’t know if they are at the level they were when we peaked in 2011,” Rogers said.

He’s not certain exactly how many are abandoned, but across the state there are still a number of homeowners who are underwater with their mortgages — meaning they owe more than what their home is worth.

He said the Home Affordable Refinance Program available through the federal government has helped many homeowners who had their mortgages insured through the federal government.

But there were still many who took out more riskier or substandard loans and haven’t been able to be helped with their mortgages, Rogers said.

The Land Bank signed a contract Dec. 19 to demolish the last five homes paid for through funding from the state’s Moving Ohio Forward program, he said. That will bring the total to 63 homes demolished in Lake County through the program.

In total, the state will have provided $1.2 million to the Land Bank through the program, Rogers said.

A few sites that the Land Bank was able to assist in demolishing include the former Merrick Hutchinson School in Grand River, the former Holiday Inn building in Painesville and a former law office building in Painesville, Rogers said.

The Land Bank also has begun to acquire some properties and recently received $500,000 in state funding from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, Rogers said.

A couple vacant parcels were already acquired through the foreclosure process, he said.

“We’ll either look to sell them outright or work with an agency to develop them such as Habitat for Humanity,” Rogers said.

He said communities that have structures that need to be taken down should contact the Land Bank to see if something can be done.

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