In the aftermath of the Great Recession, every Midwestern community faces stark economic challenges. While the Toledo area has confronted the problems of foreclosed homes, outsourced jobs, and declining population differently from our neighbors such as Detroit, there are no easy answers.
True change requires the right mix of organizations and people who understand the risks but work hard with every tool at their disposal. One of these important tools is the Lucas County Land Bank.
Now three years old, the land bank is taking a leadership role in the effort to return economic vitality to Toledo’s urban core. In the process, it is saving historic structures from a date with the wrecking ball.
Nowhere is the expanded role of the land bank more apparent than in our recent announcement that the organization has acquired the 123-year-old Pythian Castle in downtown Toledo, and is working with a developer to return this architectural gem to productive use.
The castle has sat empty for more than 40 years, and there are risks associated with its redevelopment. Some might say that these risks are too great for this organization. But all of us share the challenges of rebuilding Toledo, and we must meet them together.
I am excited about the role the land bank can play in revitalizing not just downtown, but also every neighborhood that needs its help in Lucas County. A look at what the future holds for our organization can best be accomplished by reflecting on where we’ve been.
In 2010, after a change in state law, the Lucas County Land Bank became the second such organization to incorporate in Ohio. The new law gave land banks two important tools.
The first was the ability to acquire vacant and blighted foreclosed properties relatively quickly, rather than having to wait four or five years, after which they could be scooped up by out-of-town predators at public auction. The second was a built-in funding stream generated by an increase in the financial penalties faced by delinquent property taxpayers.
The land bank’s goal is to stabilize neighborhoods by eliminating residential and commercial blight, and investing in projects that can help raise property values in our community. This can mean allowing a neighbor to acquire an adjacent vacant lot, to help her grow a garden or increase the size of her yard. Of the roughly 1,200 properties the land bank has acquired, more than three-fifths fall into this category.
Sometimes, the land bank helps a neighborhood by demolishing the worst vacant and abandoned structures, which act as magnets for crime and pull down property values for everyone else. By the end of this year, with help from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the City of Toledo, the land bank will have demolished roughly 820 of our community’s most blighted structures.
The land bank also forms partnerships with private developers to rehabilitate properties. Almost all of the 85 properties the land bank has sold for rehabilitation purposes are residential, with an emphasis on owner-occupied homes.
In addition to our residential successes, commercial properties along Detroit Avenue, Dorr Street, and Merchant’s Landing in Point Place are among the projects that have created jobs and brought new energy to our business corridors.
Whether the land bank acquires a vacant lot or redevelops a century-old historic commercial structure, the goal is the same: to strengthen our community’s neighborhoods and stabilize property values.
We know the problems of abandonment and blight did not develop overnight, and will not be solved by wishes alone. The Lucas County Land Bank is helping our community to confront these challenges.
Wade Kapszukiewicz is Lucas County treasurer and chairman of the county’s land bank.