Friday, Mar 24, 2017
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The 1,500 project

The Lucas County Land Bank is about to launch an ambitious undertaking to raze or renovate 1,500 vacant properties with a neighborhood investment plan that will take from now to September, 2020 — or 1,500 days — to complete. If that seems impractical, consider that state authorities have singled out the Land Bank for its stellar performance and have rewarded it accordingly.

Out of the $191 million in federal dollars the state of Ohio received from the federal Hardest Hit Fund that is administered by the U.S. Treasury Department, this county gets $13.8 million. In Ohio, 18 land banks received funding, and Lucas County will get the second highest dollar amount. Cuyahoga County will receive the greatest amount, which is $31.2 million. Another $12.2 million goes to Franklin County where the county seat is Columbus, the state capital.

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But when viewed on a per capita basis, Lucas County will effectively receive the highest award, according to Wade Kapszukiewicz, county treasurer and Land Bank chairman. For this corner of the state, one that has consistently been left behind by state government, this is worthy of note.

The focus of the Land Bank is to improve neighborhoods and it does that, in part, by demolishing and sometimes by remodeling properties, depending on which option makes the most economic sense. The Land Bank has surveyed every single one of the city’s 122,000 properties — including 95,000 houses — and after giving each a grade — A, B, C, D, or F — it has taken on the monumental endeavor of “1,500 properties in 1,500 days.”

So, every day for the next four years, a structure in Lucas County will either face the wrecking ball and come completely down, or there will be some tearing down then rebuilding and improvements where warranted.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz says that though the Land Bank is often thought of as “that group that demolishes stuff, we are emphasizing the rehabilitating component.” Saving distinctive buildings, including homes, is vital to Toledo’s past and future. And saving homes is vital to bolstering neighborhoods. A house may be empty or abandoned — that doesn’t mean it will never again be livable. That determination is made on a case-by-case basis, though, depending on simple economics: The land bank cannot put more into a home than it is worth.

Residents who are living near blighted and vacant structures are certain to be pleased with this initiative, even though it will take through the fall of 2020 to finish. In addition to the 1,500 plan, the Land Bank will pick a target neighborhood to support for each year of the four-year project. The first will be the Library Village neighborhood, which is roughly bounded by Sylvania and Lewis avenues, and Jackman and Laskey roads. David Mann, the Land Bank president, said the goal is to move from the outer areas toward the core of the city. Next could be the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood or the Burroughs district.

The Lucas County Land Bank — whose annual budget is $1.6 million — is also worthy of recognition because it keeps costs to raze a home substantially lower than other Ohio counties. The statewide average is $14,000. Lucas County’s rate is $9,800. That is because 80 percent of the demolition work is done by city of Toledo crews. Elsewhere, in most of the state’s urban areas, as much as 100 percent of that work is done by private contractors.

This important, cost-effective project aims to eradicate blight, provide low-cost housing for those who need it, and improve the region’s aesthetics.

Ultimately, all of this is about quality of life in greater Toledo. For, after all, we are only as strong as our neighborhoods. This is an infectious project that will ultimately result in practical city-wide improvements and heightened morale.The Land Bank just works.

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