Recently, Matt Martin of OCDCA member Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership published a reasonable opinion piece about land banks on Cleveland.com. Read it below and read the original here.
“Decades of disinvestment and job loss, suburban sprawl, and more recently the profound impacts of the foreclosure crisis have left Northeast Ohio with a glut of derelict vacant properties that litter our neighborhoods and diminish the quality of life for residents. These vacant houses are not just unsightly- they are havens for criminal activity and they destroy the property values of those around them.
This crisis has affected our entire region, and most acutely urban centers like Cleveland, but this problem is not just for big cities. Warren, Ohio, a small city of 39,000 people 52 miles southeast of Cleveland, has over 1,500 vacant houses. Nearby Youngstown is plagued with almost 4,000 vacant houses and 10,000 vacant lots, and there are at least another dozen smaller communities with the same issue including from inner ring suburbs like East Cleveland to small cities like Lima. Add Cleveland and Akron to the equation and the regional tally is staggering.
There is no shortage of data, opinion, studies, or anecdotes about whose fault this is, and all of them matter for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains the burden of this travesty falls squarely on the shoulders of the next door neighbor, the block, the neighborhood, and the community.
The advent of county land banks in the last decade has afforded our communities with a huge tool in the fight against blight. Created by state level legislation that offers a means to fast tracked tax foreclosure of walk-away or “zombie” properties, and a means for their disposition that adds value to neighborhoods by instilling parameters that protect the community from slumlords and promote owner occupancy.
Land banks, famous for demolition, are facilitating home ownership throughout our region in ways that not only help families achieve the dream of home ownership, but help our communities restore the fabric that once made them great. The recent re-allocation of Federal Hardest Hit Funds for the purpose of demolition of blighted properties is significant in scope and size, but also as a statement that this is a problem that must be addressed. I know there are folks that say you cannot demolish your way to prosperity, but everything we’ve learned in the last few years proves that demolition is a crucial component to the prosperity we seek.
Here in Warren, we have been able to couple an aggressive demolition and land use program with a robust home ownership program and have had great success.
My friend Jim Rokakis, who runs the Thriving Communities Institute and leads the way for land banks throughout the region, often reminds me that the people that have left our community in large numbers have not taken their houses with them- this means we must face the stark reality that our housing inventory is not proportional to our population and won’t be anytime soon.
In our Garden District near downtown Warren, we have torn down two houses to save a third, and made sure that third house represented the kind of high quality home ownership opportunity our residents deserve. We’ve also supported dozens of land uses in that neighborhood, everything from yard expansions for existing homeowners to urban gardens to mitigate food insecurity and promote a sense of community.”