Scioto County is closing in on one year of the Land Reutilization Program commonly referred to as the land bank. Chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners and the land bank Bryan Davis explained that the program is barely making deadline.
The land bank had a deadline to tear down 60 houses by Nov. 18.
“As far as I understand, right now we have 46 torn down with 19 scheduled to be torn down,” Davis commented. “The contractors will tear those down when they schedule to tear those down. We don’t control that.”
Davis explained that because the contracts have been awarded for demolition, the 19 properties scheduled for tear down will not count against the county. Scioto County works with the Ohio Fair Housing Authority (OFHA) on land bank funding. Davis stated that OFHA is aware of the 19 properties that have not been torn down and have found no issue with those properties not meeting the upcoming deadline. Davis added that the County is not currently in any danger of losing state funding.
“The big challenge to date has been that the houses are getting sold at sheriff sales and are not going to the land bank,” Davis explained.
When houses go to sheriff sales rather than land bank, Davis explained that those properties will go back on the tax roll; however, they may not get immediately rehabilitated or may not get rehabilitated at all.
Properties available for land bank must first go through the prosecutors office. They should be blighted properties that are in foreclosure. By first presenting the properties for sale through sheriff auction, members of the community have an option to buy the property before it falls into the land bank program.
“The public should have first dibs,” Davis stated. “Then and only then, if they don’t sale, then the properties go to the land bank. The other important thing to realize is that not every house that is in terrible condition is up for foreclosure.”
Thus, the land bank only has access to those houses up for foreclosure due to non-payment of taxes. Since the land bank started, more people have been paying their taxes or entered into a payment agreement in order to avoid foreclosure.
Davis stressed that the county focuses only on foreclosed properties that are blighted or torn down.
When the program started, the county acquired a line of credit to get the program running. Scioto County is required to keep insurance on all properties going through the lank bank. This insurance is not only to protect people working with the land bank but also people who may break into a blighted structure and be injured as a result.
“It is a very cyclical process,” Davis commented, explaining that once properties are torn down, the land bank gets reimbursement from the OFHA which is then used to cover costs to tear down another group of houses.
Nearly a year ago, when the program started, it began with an in-kind donation of $10,000 from the Treasurer’s Office and $10,000 from the Commissioners Office, Davis explained.
These donations, in addition to the $200,000 line of credit through the OFHA helped get the program running. Davis further explained that just the insurance on properties costs $14,000 a year. The funding from OFHA only covers demolition of 10 to 12 houses. The commissioners then agreed to do a revolving loan to help speed up the process.
According to Davis, the funding process has been part of the delay. Reimbursements from the State have taken longer than expected, which delayed progress. Davis explained that the State has been working with the County to prevent and limit those delays in the future to help hurry the tear down process along.
“Last month, we were out of money for two weeks, waiting on money to come in for reimbursements. The bids were already out,” Davis stated. “When you don’t have money, you can’t tear down houses.”
Davis added that the County has been working with the Andy Gedeon, who is over the City of Portsmouth’s land bank program. Davis added that the City has been working with the County on demolishing houses because the City land bank is currently focusing on three gas stations.
Davis added that the legal process for acquiring properties is also a timely process as many of the properties have liens and other legal issues.
“We’re hoping to take down more in the future,” Davis stressed.
Davis added that the land bank is also working with the state on potential funding for commercial buildings, so the demolition of blighted commercial buildings may be coming in the future.
Though the program is still in it’s early stages, Davis explained that the County is starting to look at options for the sale and use of land bank properties.
“At the end of three years, we can sell property to anyone for $1, so we will probably have people willing to buy at that point,” Davis stated.
Currently, properties are first made available to neighbors looking to expand the adjacent properties. The properties can be bought for as a little as $200. However, if a neighbor is not interested, Davis said there are other options. The land bank has the funding to mow and maintain properties for three years. They can then decided to use the properties for a variety of community improvement options ranging from the development of a community garden to recreational uses such as the construction of a basketball court.
Davis stated that with less than a year of operation, the land bank is not ready to make those decisions as the current focus has been on acquiring properties and getting those demolished. However, when it comes time to focus on the sale or utilization of properties, Davis said the land bank will focus on using properties in a way that is conducive with what the community would like. Community input will be an important part of that decision-making process.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.