Ohio Landbanks Play Critical Role in Community Development

The emergence of the $150 M Ohio Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program and the role of the Ohio landbanks has brought these critical community development organizations to center stage.  Ohio’s county land bank concept was based on a successful program in Genesee County, Michigan, which includes the industrial city of Flint. The Genesee County land bank was initially created in 2002 under Michigan state laws permitting urban cooperation agreements and was expanded following the enactment of the Michigan Land Bank Act in 2004. Genesee’s land bank acquires an average of 1,000 abandoned properties each year and has been the catalyst for increasing property values in the county by more than $100 million.

Land banks are entities with state-sanctioned powers to bypass legal and financial barriers for the acquisition and redevelopment of vacant or abandoned properties. These special powers include: the right of first refusal for purchase, holding the land tax-free, clearing land titles, extinguishing back taxes, and temporarily leasing the property before resale. Land banks have been used as a tactic to revitalize areas with high rates of property vacancy or abandonment to increase local property values. Landbanks are generally not long-term owners of property but instead own the land in the near term with a plan to clear the title and develop the site.

Created in 2008, Ohio county land reutilization corporations (more commonly known as landbanks) are nonprofit organizations that strategically acquire properties, and return them to productive use, reducing blight, increasing property values, supporting community goals, and improving the quality of life for county residents, acquire and consolidate (or aggregate) vacant parcels through purchases, donations, or intergovernmental transfer from public foreclosure holdings, clear title to land and prepare parcels for transfer to a third party for redevelopment or reuse, and prioritize land for disposition or reuse, selling land for redevelopment to a third party.  Former Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis and now director of Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s Thriving Communities – was the driving force behind passage of Ohio’s landbank legislation. This transformational new tool allowed for the establishment of county land reutilization corporations, commonly known as county land banks.

The Lucas County Landbank offers an interesting array of services that provide a model for other communities. The Lucas County Landbank provides the following services that include:

  • building on vacant land;
  • helping empty, tax-delinquent commercial properties get a new start;
  • returning lots to positive community uses, like green space and urban gardens;
  • licensing vacant lots for a community project, urban garden, or green space;
  • collecting neighborhood data to support residents and inform decision making;
  • offering the chance to renovate a home in a fair, affordable way;
  • providing owners with the opportunity to buy the vacant lot next door; and
  • a tool used to take control of vacant and abandoned properties.

Landbanks are important tools for the redevelopment in urban and rural communities.