Land bank presents another tool to deal with distressed properties

 
 
Updated 11/27/2018 5:00 PM
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  • These abandoned houses represent the types of properties the newly formed Lake County Land Bank may address.

    These abandoned houses represent the types of properties the newly formed Lake County Land Bank may address. Courtesy of Lake County Municipal League

  • This abandoned house represents the types of properties the newly formed Lake County Land Bank may address.

    This abandoned house represents the types of properties the newly formed Lake County Land Bank may address. Courtesy of Lake County Municipal League

Another method of addressing distressed properties in Lake County communities is taking shape.

The Lake County Land Bank authority has officially been formed, the legal requirements met when the villages of Fox Lake and Round Lake Beach recently approved an intergovernmental agreement to participate.

Several municipalities will consider the agreement in coming weeks, and five to seven members are expected by early 2019, according to Mandi Florip, executive director of the Lake County Municipal League.

"It a relatively new concept," Florip said. "It's a consolidated tool for our municipalities to use."

Land banks have grown to address an inventory of vacant and abandoned properties, reduce blight and increase property values.

The possibility of a land bank for Lake County was raised about three years ago when several communities in a municipal league survey identified vacant and blighted properties as concerns. A $40,000 federal grant was secured for a feasibility study that was completed this summer.

The premise is to acquire properties at a low cost, renovate them and sell at a high enough price to cover costs, including staffing, but still low enough to entice buyers.

The land bank would not tax or charge fees and at some point would be self-sustaining. Until then, grants are being sought, Florip said.

"We're not trying to create an extra layer of anything," she said.

One focus is expected to be tax sales, where properties are purchased by investors who don't deal with them and cycle through the system and deteriorate over time. The feasibility study showed this happens in about a third of tax sales.

"The land bank can come in and stop this process," Florip said.

Other properties include those in which the taxes are not sold and held in tax liens or acquired by Lake County in what is known as the Green Book and not brought to market in a timely fashion.

Several municipalities are active in addressing vacant and abandoned properties but the cost is substantial and a land bank could be a way for greater cooperation and shared services, supporters say.

"It takes a lot of time for staff to research these properties, figure out who owns them and get them into court," said Donovan Day, community development director for Fox Lake and member of the land bank advisory committee.

"It's a tool to get this stuff taken care of sooner," he added.

The Chicago area includes the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority, which started in 2012 with Park Forest, Oak Forest and Blue Island and has grown to 30 members, and the Cook County Land Bank Authority, created in 2013.

The granddaddy is the Cleveland-based Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp., which acquires about 150 properties a month, mostly through tax foreclosures, and has spurred 1,600 rehabs in the last eight years.

In Lake County, the next step will be to grow the membership, create a governing board and develop a staffing plan, including hiring an executive director.

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