Ohio’s 10th Annual Land Bank Conference Kicks Off Virtually Sept. 23rd

September 23, 2020

Western Reserve Land Conservancy and the Ohio Land Bank Association will host the 10th annual Ohio Land Bank Conference in a virtual format Sept. 23rd and 24th. A dozen sessions over two days will cover the success stories of Ohio’s land banks in removing blighted properties and replacing them with usable community assets like affordable housing, storefronts, parks and gardens, and much more.

“This annual conference is an important opportunity for county land banks across Ohio to get together, learn from each other, and celebrate our many accomplishments,” said Jim Rokakis, vice president at Western Reserve Land Conservancy and director of the Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities Institute. “COVID-19 scuttled our plans to host the conference here in Cleveland, but we’ve adapted with interactive virtual sessions that will accommodate many more people than an in-person event. We hope attendees will learn, network, and develop best practices for land bank efficiency.”

A list of county land banks across Ohio can be found here:

Descriptions of each of the 12 sessions are included below. Many of the sessions will include short documentary films, panel discussions, polling and more. The Land Conservancy has applied for CLE credits for seven of the 12 sessions.

Reporters may be particularly interested in attending Sept. 24th’s first session, “What Does the COVID-19 Crisis Mean for Land Banks?” A new real estate crisis is imminent, not only around mortgage delinquencies but increasing evictions. How can land banks get ahead of this crisis, what can they do to take advantage of opportunities, and how can they help the communities that they represent?

Western Reserve Land Conservancy has played a pivotal role in establishing land banks in 58 counties across Ohio. County land banks, formally called county land reutilization corporations, provide our counties with much-needed ability to quickly acquire foreclosed and vacant property. These land banks can safely hold a 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.

Event organizers are planning to dedicate this year’s Land Bank Conference to Robin Darden Thomas, the “Mother of All Landbanks,” who passed away in June.

Robin organized nine statewide land bank conferences in Ohio where hundreds of attendees would spend a few days together learning and networking on the best ways to make their counties better. She was actively involved in organizing the 10th conference that was scheduled to be held in Cleveland when the global pandemic hit. She pivoted fluidly, moving the conference from an in-person event to a virtual one that will occur September 23rd and 24th.

Session Descriptions

Session 1 – Legislative and Legal Updates (Presented by Roetzel & Andress)

The land bank movement has been very successful in Ohio and throughout the country, but has been subject to legal challenges on a number of fronts. Gus Frangos, the author of the land bank bill and the CEO of the Cuyahoga Land Bank will be discussing these challenges along with attorneys who have been involved in litigation around the land bank movement at the state and federal level. (CLE credit applied for).

  • Panel includes:
    • Jim Rokakis, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Gus Frangos, Cuyahoga County Land Bank
    • Steve Funk, Roetzel & Andress
    • Douglas Sawyer, Cuyahoga County Land Bank

Session 2 – Small County Land Bank Success Stories in Appalachian Counties

Much attention is paid to the work and success of County land banks in larger counties like Lucas, Hamilton, Franklin and Cuyahoga. However, considerable success has been achieved in smaller land banks like Lawrence County in South Central Ohio and one of the newer land banks in Athens County. We will be focusing in on the work of these two small banks as well as the work of the land bank in Van Wert County in Northwest Ohio on the Indiana border.

  • Panel includes:
    • Jim Rokakis, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Ric Wasserman, Athens County Treasurer
    • Chris Chmiel, Athens County Commissioner
    • Thomas Schneider, Lawrence County Land Bank
    • Stephen Burcham, Lawrence County Treasurer

Session 3 – Mahoning Valley Success Stories (Presented by Dynamo Metrics)

One of the more distressed areas in the state of Ohio and one that has received considerable national attention is the Mahoning Valley which includes Trumbull and Mahoning Counties. These communities, which include the cities of the Warren and Youngstown, have worked closely with their land banks and in the case of Trumbull County has actually engaged a well-established community organization, Trumbull Neighborhood Partners, to run their land bank. The relationship between the Mahoning County Land Bank and the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation is also especially close.  We will be looking closely at the two land banks and how they have worked so effectively in their respective counties.

  • Panel includes:
    • Jim Rokakis, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Shawn Carvin, Trumbull Neighborhood Partners
    • Ian Beniston, Youngstown Development Corporation
    • Debora Flora, Mahoning County Land Bank
    • Sam Lamancusa, Trumbull County Treasurer

Session 4 – How Land Banks Can Engage in Land Conservation (Presented by Western Reserve Land Conservancy)

Land banks are in a unique position to take vacant and abandoned land, some of which appears to be hard to develop (in that it may be wetlands or other challenged property), and take advantage of land conservation opportunities by using various tools that are available in Ohio. Western Reserve Land Conservancy and other land conservation organizations have been conserving land throughout the state for many years now. We will look at some of the opportunities that might be available and use Trumbull County as an example of a partnership between a land conservancy and a county land bank. (CLE credit applied for)

  • Panel includes:
    • Alex Czayka, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Bob Owen, Western Reserve Land Conservancy

Session 5 – Historic Preservation

Because land banks deal with many older properties it is inevitable that historic properties enter our portfolios. While much attention has been paid to demolition, there is considerable work being done in the area of historic preservation. We will be looking at examples of historic preservation efforts around the state and helping land banks to understand what tools might be available to save a property rather than demolish that property. (CLE credit applied for)

  • Panel includes:
    • Heather Rudge, Historic Preservation Group
    • Jessica Powell, Hamilton County Land Bank
    • Howard Katz, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

Session 6 – Impacts and Opportunities of Land Banks on Habitat for Humanity

Kenneth Oehlers is the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio. In that role he works with seven counties in Southeast Ohio and has been a leader in working with county land banks and creating partnerships with Habitat communities. We will visit Kenneth Oehlers in some of these communities and he will discuss how important Land banks are to organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

  • Panel includes:
    • Ryan Miller, Habitat for Humanity
    • Jim Rokakis, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Ken Oehliers, Habitat for Humanity
    • John Habat, Habitat for Humanity

Session 7 – What Does the COVID-19 Crisis Mean for Land Banks?

What does the COVID-19 crisis mean for land banks? A new real estate crisis is imminent, not only around mortgage delinquencies but increasing evictions. How can land banks get ahead of this crisis, what can they do to take advantage of opportunities, and how can they help the communities that they represent? (CLE credit applied for)

  • Panel includes:
    • Frank Ford, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Will Basil, The Port
    • Jerry Paffendorf, Landgrid
    • Bill Faith, Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio
    • Anne Wistow, Lucas County Land Bank

Session 8 – Can Land Banks Engage in Wind and Solar Power?

This session will focus in on private sector efforts in the wind and solar energy areas and focusing on what land banks can do to take advantage of these opportunities. (CLE credit applied for).

  • Panel includes:
    • Josh Wendroff
    • Garrett Greenlee
    • Paul Curran, BQ Energy
    • Ted Brandt, Marathon Capital

Session 9 – How to Clean Up Environmental Problems

We will be focusing in on environmentally contaminated properties that are often made available to land banks, but also resources that are available to clean these sites up. We will be looking at specific examples around the state of how these efforts have worked. (CLE credit applied for)

  • Panel includes:
    • John Zampino, Partners
    • John Garvey, Partners

Session 10 – Case Study on Knox Count and a Multi-National Corporation

Case study on Knox County and a multi-national corporation’s donation of 47 acres and 25 buildings to the Knox county land bank. We will be looking at the property, the opportunities that the land bank has to redevelop the site, and the many challenges the property presents to the land bank.  We hope this session is interactive and that participants will not only ask questions, but offer ideas to Knox County.  (CLE credits applied for)

  • Panel includes:
    • Teresa Bemiller, Knox County Commissioner
    • Chris Pycraft, Critchfield Critchfield & Johnston
    • Jeff Gotke, Knox County Area Development Foundation
    • Jim Rokakis, Western Reserve Land Conservancy

Session 11 – How Land Banks Lead on Home Rehabilitation (Presented by Ohio Finance Corporation)

Over 40,000 properties have been taken down around the state of Ohio since 2011 by land banks, cities, villages, and townships throughout Ohio. More and more often land banks are being asked to find creative ways to lead on home rehabilitation and home repairs.  We will be focusing on creative efforts around this area throughout the state of Ohio.

  • Panel includes:
    • Carey Shea, Home by Hand
    • Ian Beniston, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation
    • Dennis Roberts, Cuyahoga Land Bank
    • Tiffany Sokol, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation
    • Amanda Mayan, Man Holdings LLC
    • Isaac Robb, Western Reserve Land Conservancy

Session 12 – How Vacant Land in Distressed Areas can be Repurposed Into Parks That Have Added Significance

In the St. Luke’s neighborhoods of Cleveland five different parks are being created, each with its own significance and meaning for that community. One of the parks is being developed on a site where a serial killer murdered 11 women, and another on a site where a policeman was shot and killed while responding to a complaint around a vacant property.  We will look at these efforts and how your community might engage in efforts like these.

  • Panel includes:
    • Isaac Robb, Western Reserve Land Conservancy
    • Jacquie Gillon, Western Reserve Land Conservancy