Recently officials with the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA) facilitated a meeting between officials from the City of Portsmouth, Village of New Boston and Scioto County to talk about establishing a county land bank.
The city of Portsmouth has established a similar program with the Land Reutilization Program (LRP). Officials are hopeful to take the successes of the LRP to a program county wide.
SOPA brought in officials with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to discuss what efforts need to be made to establish a county land bank.
Jason Kester, Executive Director of SOPA defined a land bank as, “a community organization that deals with blighted houses. One of the things we identified with the America’s Best Communities Grant as a weakness of our community was the lack of recreational opportunities and lack of entry level housing.”
Kester said you can find communities of higher value housing and you can find communities of blighted housing.
“We have an issue in housing. There are over 3,000 blighted houses in Scioto County. How to address that issue has been identified (as a need of the community),” Kester said.
Jim Rokakis, Vice President of Western Reserve Land Conservancy said there are a number of federal programs that could bring millions of dollars to the community to raze some of the county housing stock.
On Friday afternoon, Ohio Senator Rob Portman said the U.S. Department of Treasury is making over $97 million in Hardest Hit Funding available to communities in Ohio, with an opportunity to apply for an additional $250 million.
“The key thing with these Hardest Hit Funds is our opportunity to not miss out on grant funding from the government, to deal with the blighted housing in our community,” Kester said.
Rokakis said a land bank will allow communities to take control of blighted properties and repurpose them through demolition or sell them to a neighbor. He said the land bank would also have the right to transfer properties they’ve obtained to other organizations like Habitat For Humanity.
Rokakis said in a lot of cases the houses or land can be put back on the county tax rolls, which can benefit the county, township and school districts.
Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis said there are some legislative actions the commissioners need to take to establish a land back corporation.
The Scioto Foundation has offered to pay the start up costs as a grant to SOPA and SOPA has volunteered to administer the land bank once established.
“The city (of Portsmouth) was very successful in tearing down properties, through money they received from the state. We all know there’s a lot more in not just the city, but in the townships and the county. Since I’ve taken office, I know there’s been at least three requests for help tearing down blighted houses,” Davis said. “This (land bank) will give us the opportunity to have the money available (to tear down blighted houses).”
Davis said the commissioners are excited about the opportunity a land bank could bring to the community.
Davis said the county, city, villages and townships will have representation on a board that governs the land bank.
“The amount of money that’s available is huge. We’re looking at the possibility of $6.5 and $7 million and that may be a conservative number,” Davis said. “This has been a process that’s involved with a number of county offices and office holders. We’ve taken a wait and see approach, but after that meeting the other day everyone is convinced we can do this.”
Davis believes once the land bank is established it will help Scioto County economically and socially.
“Economically we’re going to be able to tear down blighted houses and start strategically look at the needs of the community. The city and SOPA have already been doing this and the land bank will us into hyper-space, we’re going to be able to do some great things,” Davis said.
Davis said blighted housing stocks has been a problem in this community for years.
“This is a problem we’ve had for years and everybody’s talked about it, but nobody’s had a solution,” Davis said.
He said the land bank will work with property owners to get caught up on back taxes and if the land owner is not around and back taxes are owed the land bank may be able to take control of the land and repurpose it.
“This (blighted housing stock) is a problem and this (land bank) is the answer, we just have to be smart about it,” Davis said. “I think we have the right people in positions now, where we’re going to be able to have constructive conversations about where we need to tackle blight, where is makes the most since and we should be able to see success all across the county.”
It was not certain when the commissioners will take the necessary legislative action, but said they have an interest in seeing it happen.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT