Ohio’s smaller counties now have access to a powerful tool previously available only to their more populous counterparts – the land bank.
The state legislature has voted to eliminate the 60,000 population threshold for counties wishing to establish land banks, thereby extending land-banking authority to every county in Ohio. The move doubles – from 44 to 88 – the number of counties now eligible to form a land bank.
Jim Rokakis, director of Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute and the father of Ohio’s widely acclaimed 2008 county land bank statute, applauded the legislature’s lifting of the population floor. He said Thriving Communities Institute, which has helped establish most of the 24 existing county land banks in Ohio, expects to hear from smaller counties that have seen how land banks have helped revitalize communities and remove blight.
“Land banks can work for counties all over Ohio, not just the larger counties,” Rokakis said. “Tax delinquent, abandoned properties are present in every county of Ohio – and land banks are a powerful way to deal with them.”
Rokakis, then the Cuyahoga County treasurer, was the driving force behind the 2009 state legislation that allowed Cuyahoga County to create Ohio’s first county land bank. The following year, the remaining 45 counties with populations over 60,000 received authority to create land banks.
The law will take effect Sept. 29.
Land banks give counties the ability to take tax delinquent properties that have been abandoned and repurpose them. Perhaps the most important feature of the law is the fact that the title to these properties is “cleansed” as a result of the foreclosure, and that clean title allows the property to be transferred easily to either an adjoining owner or another entity that will make the land productive again. This tool has been used thousands of times throughout Ohio since the land bank law was first passed.
Robin Thomas, land bank program director for Thriving Communities Institute, said, “Smaller counties have experienced many of the same issues as larger ones. They have seen the success of county land banks in removing blighted properties through demolition, greening and transferring those properties into the hands of responsible property owners. These smaller counties want to create a land bank.”
Here is a listing of counties currently without land banks, by region: