Land Banks Preparing Strategic Plans to Expand Scope and Community Impact

As the newest member of the NCST team, I’m excited to share some early observations. Over the past four months, I have spent the majority of my time becoming familiar with the community development networks throughout Ohio and Michigan. And in nearly every community conversation there is a palpable recurring question of “What’s next?” for Ohio and Michigan’s Land Banks.

Since their inception in the late 2000s, County Land Banks have been key partners with NCST and a significant actor in supporting housing recovery in general. In both Ohio and Michigan, Land Banks have been a rapidly growing part of the community development industry. As of October 2018, there are now more than 50 Land Banks in Ohio (out of 88 counties), up from just 8 in 2011, and more than 25 Land Banks in Michigan. Land Banks were crucial to their local communities during the NSP years and are equally vital, more recently, in addressing post-housing recession blight.

In particular, both the Ohio and Michigan Land Banks played a key role in advocating for the federal government to authorize demolition as an eligible activity for funding under the federal Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) program, originally created by the Obama Administration to help prevent foreclosures. They persuaded the Treasury department that neighborhood stabilization required both efforts – to keep people in their homes and to alleviate blight in support of housing values and communities.

Use of the HHF Funding for demolition (known as the Neighborhood Initiative Program in Ohio and the Blight Elimination Program in Michigan) has proven critical in addressing blight issues, but there is still demolition left to be done. Recognizing this need, the Ohio Housing Finance Authority (OHFA), the state agency charged with administering the Ohio HHF program, has identified HHF-funded blight elimination as a Fiscal Year 2019 Initiative as part of their annual plan: “1.10 …For communities still working to stabilize property values, the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP) component of the Save the Dream program provides financial support to County Land Banks for blight elimination.”

Unfortunately, HHF allocations are rapidly reaching their spend-down timeline, and some production and expenditure thresholds have or nearly have passed. OHFA is requiring that 100% of targeted property acquisitions for demolition be acquired by Land Banks no later than December 18, 2018. Additionally, OHFA’s final funding drawdowns are due in December 2019.

With this fast approaching timeline in mind, Land Banks have begun to plan for a future with fewer dedicated resources available for demolition, conducting internal self-assessments and, in some cases, preparing formal strategic plans – all with a mind for transitioning beyond predominantly demolition-oriented organizations and expanding their scope and impact of community stabilization. For example, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank (CCLRC) is currently interviewing stakeholders to develop its future programming, which might include increased activity in residential development as well as strategic land assembly for economic development projects. According to CCLRC President and General Counsel Gus Frangos, “we expect to see our residential development programs ramping up as (HHF) demolition activities are winding down.”

The Trumbull County Land Bank/Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership (TNP) also is exploring what’s needed to expand its capacity for targeted acquisition and rehab in the Warren, Ohio region. TNP Executive Director Matt Martin reports that, with respect to the HHF and NIP programs, TNP has been able to grow their organization’s skill sets in deconstruction, landscape installation, landscape maintenance as well as added capacity around renovation and administrative support. “In future years,” he adds, “(TNP) might touch 50 properties annually vs. the current 500 (demos) annually, but can be much more surgical with those 50 interventions each of which will further stabilize this community.”

Additionally, this conversation has occurred in industry forums such as this year’s Michigan Association of Land Banks Leadership Summit and the Ohio Land Bank Conference, both of which took place in October, and will likely also occur at the 2019 Building Michigan Communities conference (I hope to meet many of you there).

NCST looks forward to working together with Land Banks and others to answer the question of “what’s next.”

Chris Garland serves as Community Development Manager, Michigan & Ohio, for NCST.