Clark County land bank to demolish more blighted homes this year

The Clark County Land Bank has steadily ramped up the number of vacant and blighted properties the entity has torn down since it was founded in 2014.

The publicly funded nonprofit has demolished 36 properties this year with the potential to do more by the end of the year, said Ethan Harris, community engagement manager for the Clark County Land Re-utilization Corp. The organization demolished 10 properties in 2015 and 29 properties last year.

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The agency receives funding through the federal Neighborhood Initiative Program and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. The Clark County nonprofit’s budget was about $1.2 million dollars this year, which includes both the federal money and proceeds from parcels the land bank sells for productive use.

Clark County commissioners also put 2.5 percent of the county’s Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collection toward the land bank. The land bank recently received an award from the Ohio Auditor for a clean audit.

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The land bank focuses mostly on residential properties but also acquired and maintains the former Macy’s site at the Upper Valley Mall. Nearly all of its work so far has been conducted within Springfield city limits, Harris said, although the land bank is also beginning to work with a small number of parcels in the Limecrest neighborhood.

The agency has become more efficient at identifying and razing properties that fit the criteria for demolition, Harris said, which is why its torn down more buildings recently. Properties acquired are typically delinquent on property taxes, and must be blighted and vacant to qualify.

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“We’ve gotten better about it and the word is out we’re doing good work,” Harris said.

Harris pointed out a pair of parcels along Highland Avenue that the land bank is working to transfer to a neighboring property owner. Once blighted structures, the land bank worked with local Boy Scouts and Clark County workers to landscape the site, which now contains a pergola and a small garden on either side of an occupied home.

The land bank also created a green space at the intersection of South Limestone Street and Euclid Avenue lines with small stone columns and landscaping after tearing down some vacant houses there.

The land bank is only permitted to transfer parcels to adjacent property owners, but Harris said it’s been able to transfer between 50 and 60 percent of the parcels in its inventory. In several cases the adjacent property owners initially showed no interest but changed their mind after seeing improvements made to the previously blighted spaces, Harris said.

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“I’ve definitely adopted the, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ philosophy,” Harris said.

Statewide the number of county land banks has boomed since state lawmakers approved a single entity in Cuyahoga County in 2008, said Jim Rokakis, director of Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute. Rokakis was serving as treasurer in Cuyahoga County at the time and said he knew he needed a new tool to improve decaying neighborhoods just as the impact of a national foreclosure crisis was becoming clear.

More than 40 county land banks now exist throughout Ohio, he said. Much of the focus early on was demolishing abandoned sites but he said more energy is now being spent getting those properties back to productive use, he said.

Federal funding that has fueled Ohio land banks so far will eventually dry up, but Rokakis said his organization is always on the lookout for additional potential funding sources. An important next step, he said, will be identifying options to tear down abandoned factories and warehouses.

“We have focused heavily initially on the residential issues but we’re working hard on the others as well,” Rokakis said. “I’m optimistic that maybe not now but ultimately that’s going to require help from other levels of government.”

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