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Published: Monday, 1/17/2011

Land bank a vital tool to save neighborhoods

BY WADE KAPSZUKIEWICZ

Lucas County has taken an exciting step toward revitalizing our neighborhoods and offering new hope to hard-hit residents, community groups, and local governments. The county's new land bank will help rescue communities from the most-blighted properties and return other property to productive use.

We are the second county in Ohio, after Cuyahoga County, to take advantage of a state law to create an active land bank. Here's how it works:

Let's say you are a longtime resident of one of Toledo's many vibrant neighborhoods. Your block has had challenges, but has remained strong. Over the past couple of years, though, some of your neighbors have lost their jobs and more properties around you are entering foreclosure.

The family next door moved after a foreclosure and the house is empty. You aren't sure who owns the property now. Nobody has come by to cut the grass or rake the leaves. Vandals have stolen much of the home's scrap metal. During these cold winter months, the house has attracted rodents and other pests.

Previously, an outside investor or other lienholder might have acquired the house at a sheriff's auction. Depending on its condition and value, it might have sat empty for a long time, losing even more of its worth.

The effect on the surrounding neighborhood is devastating. Studies show that proximity to a foreclosed or vacant home can drag neighborhood property values down by more than 10 percent. If there are multiple vacant and abandoned homes, the loss is magnified.

The home in which you have invested decades of sweat equity, keeping the yard trim and the sidewalks clear, is losing its value. The financial equity you have built in your house — your single largest investment — is disappearing. The neighborhood where you've spent your life isn't looking as appealing.

This story is all too common in Toledo and Lucas County. A recent study estimates conservatively that nearly 10 percent of all properties in Toledo are vacant. And of these, more than one-third are chronically vacant.

The land bank can help change that dynamic for our neighborhoods by acquiring tax-foreclosed and other challenged properties promptly. It has the resources to demolish properties that blight neighborhoods and the power to form partnerships with community groups, nonprofit organizations, and residents to make other properties valuable again.

The land bank will use its own tools to help expedite reuse of properties, rather than duplicate other housing efforts. Community development groups such as United North and nonprofits such as Neighborhood Housing Services have valuable plans to revitalize their targeted neighborhoods.

Churches and other faith-based organizations are anchor institutions, committed to seeing their neighborhoods succeed. Working with the land bank, neighbors who are taking care of an adjacent property may be able to acquire it for a community garden or side lot.

As chairman of the land bank's board, I am proud that we have hired an executive director who will guide its day-to-day efforts. To do this right, we've spent the past couple of months listening to the community, building relationships, and understanding the challenges county residents face.

Our neighborhoods will no longer be held hostage by land speculators and Wall Street banks. The land bank will be a vital tool in the fight to save our neighborhoods.

The crisis of vacant and abandoned homes is a developing challenge for northwest Ohio. Our community must accept the fact that the old system no longer works. The land bank offers a crucial new approach.

Wade Kapszukiewicz is Lucas County treasurer and chairman of the county's land bank.



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