Earlier this week, the Scioto Foundation held its annual meeting. At the meeting, Jason Kester, Executive Director of the Southern Ohio Port Authority (SOPA), updated those in attendance on the formation of the Scioto County Land Bank.
The Scioto Foundation and SOPA have worked together on several projects with the formation of the land bank the latest. In partnership with SOPA, the Scioto Foundation agreed to cover the start up costs for the land bank.
“Portsmouth by definition is a shrinking city. That definition is a city that has a substantial and sustained population loss of 20 percent or more, that’s occurred over the last 40 years. Since 1970 Portsmouth has seen a reduction on population of 27.8 percent and New Boston has seen a 33 percent reduction in population,” said Josh Howard, Chairman of the Scioto Foundation. “In shrinking cities, we see a variety of common factors, one of them, vacant housing. How many times have we driven down the main path, to and from our wonderful city to see vacant housing. It’s an issue and we (Scioto Foundation) are trying to help various organizations address that issue.”
Howard said the foundation feels the grant they are making available for the establishment of the land bank, has the potential to be a great investment.
“Ohio has a shrinking population, this is not just an issue that’s unique to Portsmouth. We have more infrastructure and houses than we do people, this causes a number of problems,” Kester said. “In Portsmouth specifically, we have more rentals properties than we do people who own properties, which causes a variety of tax issues.”
Kester told those in attendance, the city of Portsmouth started a land reutilization program, that’s seen a lot of success.
“We wanted to expand the program (land reutilization) out to the entire community,” Kester said.
He said the desire to expand the land reutilization the city has to all of Scioto County was the motivation to form a Scioto County Land Bank.
Since the idea first came about, Kester and a number of other people have been doing some preliminary work on identifying some properties that might qualify for the program.
“I have not done a count lately, but the current list of tax delinquent properties in Scioto County, is in six point fount on an excel spreadsheet, that’s almost 20 pages long,” Kester said. “(Once established) the land bank will look for tax delinquent that’s also vacant, abandoned and destroyed by fire.”
He said the priority of the land bank will be public safety. They will start razing the homes that could potentially be a public safety hazard.
“In just a couple of weeks, we’ve identified 30-35 of those (potential public safety hazards) that are either controlled by the city or controlled by the county,” Kester said.
He said the land bank is being established, quickly to apply for some available federal funding, that’s offered to communities to address blighted housing.
“The federal government has offered to provide somewhere between $2 million and $8 million to Scioto County to tear down houses,” Kester said. “We would get $25,000 to tear down a house, the going rate to tear down a house in Scioto County is somewhere between $5,500 and $7,500, the rest of the money is to plant grass, plant trees.”
To establish the land bank the Scioto county Commissioners have to pass two resolutions. One resolution, directing Scioto County Treasurer Bill Ogg to file incorporation paperwork to form the Scioto County Land Reutilization Corporation.
Once the corporation has been established, the commissioners are anticipated to pass a second resolution naming the corporation the authoritative body to handle the counties blighted housing stock, with the goal of eventually putting it back on the tax rolls.
Kester said there are some commercial buildings the land bank could put through the foreclosure process and repurpose.
“There are about 10 to 12 abandoned commercial buildings that have some value and some people have expressed interest in them, if they were in the land bank,” Kester said.
He said if the land bank is able to sell some of the commercial buildings, they would have money to tear down more houses or help in the rehabilitation of some of the houses.
Kester is hopeful the corporation paperwork will come back soon and the commissioners will pass the second necessary resolution. The application to receive federal funding for the land bank is due at the end of May.
Also presenting at the foundation meeting was Matt Martin, Executive Director of the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership. He spoke about community revitalization in Warren and Trumbull Counties.
For more information about the programs and actives of the Scioto Foundation visit, www.sciotofoundation.org.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 1933 or on Twitter @WayneallenPDT