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Board Takes First Step Toward Cook County Land Bank

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

by Matthew Blake

The Cook County Board passed a resolution today setting up a committee that has 60 days to devise a model for a county land bank, an ambitious proposal that board President Toni Preckwinkle called a “critical tool to help combat the foreclosure crisis and eradicate blight in our communities.”

As we have reported, a land bank is a quasi-governmental organization intended to seize and manage properties until they can be put into productive use.

Land banks had some success in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, and Genese County, Michigan, which includes Flint. In both places, mortgage lenders unloaded properties to the land bank that were then redeveloped or at least rehabilitated to curb neighborhood blight.

Sponsored by Preckwinkle and Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D-Chicago), the resolution lays out potential program models. One is the creation of a not-for-profit redevelopment authority that works with a countywide advisory board. The structure has similarities to the recently created Chicago Infrastructure Trust.

Gainer said in an interview that the clock starts today for the advisory committee to recommend a land bank model to the Cook County Board, though committee members have not been named. The resolution lists city, suburban, and county officials along with realtors, regional planning organizations and affordable housing developers as members of the committee.

Gainer emphasized that any land bank model would focus on “turning vacant homes into rentals,” stating that she has consulted affordable housing groups such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless for input.

The committee will also determine how to find start up money for the project and designate figures for tax incentives meant to entice private developers. In Cuyahoga and Genese Counties, land banks relied on state laws that empowered them to levy certain local taxes.

Illinois has no such laws, and Gainer has suggested alternative funding sources, such as a portion of the $1.5 billion the state got from the national “robo-signing” settlement.



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