Grant to help start Erie County land bank

December 27, 2011

A $40,000 grant from the Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation and two partners – the Randolph J. and Estelle M. Dorn and Frost-Parker foundations – will be used to establish a county land bank, one designed to return vacant and foreclosed properties to productivity.The grant will help cover the cost of setting up the Erie County Land Reutilization Corporation, commonly referred to as a land bank.  Jim Rokakis, director of the Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute and a national expert on urban land revitalization, has been working closely with Erie County officials over the past few months to start a land bank.

Anna J. Oertel (pictured), executive director of the Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation, said the organization is proud to be able to partner with the Dorn and Frost-Parker foundations to establish the land bank.

“We see this as an excellent opportunity to tap into the knowledge and expertise of the Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute to strengthen communities throughout Erie County,” Oertel said. “The innovative solutions provided by the Erie County Land Reutilization Corporation not only help eliminate blight but also decrease the economic, health and safety issues brought by abandoned properties.”

She added, “The Sandusky/Erie County Community Foundation actively searches for creative solutions to the unmet needs in our communities. We are confident the Erie County Land Reutilization Corporation will be a successful example of just such a solution.”

Land banks are a public-private venture that allows vacant, abandoned and tax-foreclosed properties to be safely held until they can be returned to productive use.

Erie County officials have been in talks with Rokakis, the former Cuyahoga County Treasurer who was instrumental in crafting the state law that allows counties to create land banks.  Rokakis founded the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., the state’s first land bank, in 2009 and is now helping counties throughout Ohio establish land banks.

An Erie County land bank would be able to provide the much-needed ability to quickly acquire foreclosed and vacant property. It would then safely hold the distressed property, clean its title and prepare it for a better day.  The goal is to secure vacant properties – which would otherwise attract crime, lower neighboring home values and incur public services costs – so that they can be put to better use in the future.

Land banks are a response to the worst housing crisis in U.S. history, one that has decimated many urban and inner-ring suburban neighborhoods.  According to Rokakis, a land bank would help stop speculation and “flipping,” stabilize the housing and tax base, improve the quality of life and advance urban planning.  In 2010, there were 548 foreclosure filings in Erie County.

Western Reserve Land Conservancy, which protects land in northern Ohio, seeks to preserve the scenic beauty, rural character and natural resources in a 14-county region.  The Land Conservancy has preserved more than 380 properties and nearly 24,000 acres to date.