Thursday, October 29, 2009

28 Ohio counties could acquire land banking powers

Twenty-eight additional Ohio counties – including the Greater Cincinnati counties of Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren – may acquire a new tool to deal with a glut of abandoned and vacant properties thanks to bipartisan legislation introduced last week in the Ohio General Assembly.

Senate Bill 188 and House Bill 313, introduced by state senators Mark Wagoner (R-2nd) and Teresa Fedor (D-11th) and representatives Peter Ujvagi (D-47th) and Roland Winburn (D-40th), would lower the population threshold for counties seeking to organize County Land Reutilization Corporations (CLRC), or county land banks, to counties with populations of 100,000 or more.

Currently, only Cuyahoga County has a county-wide land bank statute.

Land banking was one of 26 recommendations released last April in a Brookings Institution/Greater Ohio report (PDF) outlining specific action items to help reduce Ohio's problems with abandoned and vacant properties.

Last week, foreclosure tracking company RealtyTrac reported that one in every 171 housing units in Ohio is in foreclosure.

"Land banks provide an important tool for local governments to use in addressing the growing number of vacant and abandoned properties," said Lavea Brachman, co-director of smart growth advocacy group Greater Ohio and non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. "Greater Ohio has been pressing for changes to the land bank statute to allow more counties to strategically acquire properties, develop creative ways to use those properties, reduce blight, increase property values, support community goals and improve the quality of life for residents."

Cuyahoga program in its infancy

Even though Cuyahoga County's land bank was formed last December, the county expects to begin collecting its first 40 to 50 properties shortly.

To fund its land bank program, Cuyahoga County commissioners voted last week to move $20 million from various short-term investments to each of the county's 105 taxing districts as an advance on delinquent property taxes. The county will receive the money back – with 2.75 percent interest. Penalties and interest will be directed to the land bank.

Commissioners reasoned that the county's short-term investments earn less than 1 percent interest.

A $1 million federal economic stimulus grant, foundation grants, and penalties and interest already collected from the county's taxing districts will fund the balance of the land bank's $6 million budget.