Groups Cultivating Local Land Bank
Land Bank Update
December 28, 2015
“Many of our communities struggle with abandoned and derelict properties where the taxes are unpaid and often the owners can’t even be found,” says Cecile LaCombe Petro, Highland Redevelopment director and co-chair of the Lake County Task Force.
To keep these properties from blighting the surrounding neighborhoods and to return them to productive use, the Northwest Indiana Reinvestment Alliance is working with the Lake County Community Economic Development Department to cultivate a land bank. It would acquire vacant and abandoned properties for repurposing and redevelopment.
Still in the initial stages, Petro says they’re studying successful models, such as the Genesee County Land Bank, which includes the city of Flint, Mich., to help in the creation of the Lake County Indiana Land Bank Authority.
The mission of land banks such as the one in Genesee County, is “to restore value to the community by acquiring, developing and selling vacant and abandoned properties in cooperation with stakeholders who value responsible land ownership. It’s something very much needed in our area.”
Land banks have the authority to accumulate vacant and abandon properties and hold them “tax free,” until they can be redeveloped. In Michigan, prior to a change in the tax foreclosure process, abandoned properties were in a legal limbo. In Flint, this contributed to urban decline by keeping properties off of the tax roll and out of circulation for up to seven years.
The concept in Lake County, says Joe Wszolek, chief operating officer of the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors, is to work with local governments to move abandoned properties into the hands of home owners.
Currently, says Wszolek, the system is very cumbersome and legalistic. Often, when properties come up for bids at tax sales, bidders, sight unseen, can obtain a swath of homes and choose just the ones they want and let the others languish, still accumulating unpaid taxes.
“One of the biggest problems with abandoned properties is who maintains them,” says Wszolek, noting that a land bank can move a property from a tax liability to a private property owner.
“We can no longer afford to abandon properties and move on as our communities age,” says Robert Fulton, assistant to the mayor for the city of Hobart. “We must view all the properties as assets have some value whether it be great or small. Just as when we were children we were taught the value of putting our money away in the bank we must now save up the parcels that in days past formed the successful communities of our past until we can find a way to restore their vitality.”
Fulton believes that a Lake County Land Bank will give a city another tool in addressing issues of abandoned homes and properties.
“It provides a framework for cooperative efforts between towns, cities, the county, businesses and community organizations,” he says. “It will allow for countywide effort to address issues that to a greater or lesser extent every community is or will face.”
On Jan. 7, the Lake County Housing Task Force is holding a training workshop to discuss the Lake County Land Bank. Petro says that the workshop is trying to target people wo are, will be or have been responsible in the region’s municipalities with vacant and abandoned properties.
So far, she says, there’s been a lot of interest.
Also invited to attend are those who would like to learn more about the subject.
“The workshop will give examples of what has worked and what to stay away from as well,” says Petro.
“Hobart is a city that has been around for 140 years,” says Fulton, emphasizing the municipality’s enthusiasm for developing a land bank. “We are proud of that fact. We are working to insure that we are able to continue to make Hobart a community that has an equally long future. This will require that we find avenues to build on all the work that has gone on in the past. We believe that land banking is one of the tools that can facilitate this.”
For Petro, land banking is all about making these parcels productive again.
“They can be turned around again,” she says. “We can extinguish blight and abandonment and turn them from non-producing tax status to properties that generate revenues and achieve tax paying status.”