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Cook County OKs landbank for foreclosures

Wed, Feb 6, 2013

The continuing foreclosure crisis has resulted in almost 200,000 vacant homes in Cook County, according to recent census data.

In an attempt to combat these numbers, the Cook County Board on January 16 unanimously passed an ordinance to establish a land bank. Proposed by Board President Toni Preckwinkle, the land bank will acquire foreclosed homes, rehab them, and return them to the public.

A land bank allows the community, not private investors, to obtain these abandoned homes through government transfer, donation from lending institutions, purchase or no cash bid at the scavenger sale. The land bank authority then performs any necessary repairs and makes the building marketable for future inhabitants. Finally, the buildings are either transferred to responsible investors or to the municipality.

“This is my vision for what the Cook County Land Bank can be,” said Preckwinkle in a press release in June, “and I’m excited about the possibilities this can provide to the community and our neighbors in need of relief.”

The proposal is also supported by the Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer and Action Now, a grassroots organization dedicated to advocating for racial, social and economic justice in Chicago.

Action Now’s Rebuild Chicago initiative already advocates against unjust foreclosures and for the reuse of vacant buildings. The Cook County Land Bank will expand the reach of their principles and procedures from just Chicago to the greater Chicagoland area.

Bridget Gainer has seen firsthand the explosion of the foreclosure crisis. In 2005, there were 15,000 foreclosure filings in Chicago. Over 80,000 were filed in 2012.

“Every day we see the ramifications of one of the worst housing crisis many of us have ever witnessed,” said Gainer in a statement in July. “We must employ these resources in meaningful and organized methods to reinforce positive growth and development. As housing problems continue to grow, so does the scope of solution.”

A land bank will not only provide relief for families in need, but will also contribute to the economic stability of communities as a whole. An empty and abandoned house is drag on the neighbors, on the street and on the community as a whole. It is an opportunity for criminal activity to move into the neighborhood, threatening security and safety. By taking over these properties and moving them out of foreclosure, Preckwinkle and Gainer hope to bring vibrancy and stability back to the hardest hit communities.

The Cook County Land Bank will be geographically the largest in the country. Twelve other states are currently using land banks to combat the foreclosure crisis. The Woodstock Institute reports that in Genesee County, Michigan, where Flint is located, the land bank acquired more than 10,000 distressed properties between 2002 and 2011. The land bank attracted over $60 million in investment. Cook County hopes to achieve similar success.

After Gainer and Preckwinkle passed a resolution in July to create the committee, the Cook County Land Bank Advisory Council began researching and developing a proposal for the recommended role, structure and governance of a county land bank. The proposal was supported by testimony from about 20 representatives from local organizations that deal with homes and with poverty. Supporters included the Metropolitan Planning Council, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Woodstock Institute, Chicago Association of Realtors, Southwest Organizing Project, Chicago Community Loan Fund and Chicago Metropolitan Housing Development Corporation.

Not represented at the meeting was Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction. The organization focuses on grassroots efforts to prevent evictions and foreclosures across the Chicagoland area. Simon Swartzman, a volunteer with Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, expressed concern about the lack of foreseeable community involvement.

“It seems like this is the governmental response that happens around a gentrification project,” Swartzman said, “Not the response around people who need help on a massive scale.”

Swartzman also questioned who would be receiving these homes after they’ve been redeveloped. The Land Bank will not be returning the homes to the original owners, but rather passing them along to investors who are deemed responsible and municipalities for redistribution.

“I’m concerned about the damaging effects that gentrification can have on the community,” Swartzman said, “It leads to even more displacement, which is incredibly damaging for the people affected and the city as a whole.”

It could take as much as a year for the Cook County Land Bank to begin acquiring properties.

Written by Ellen Garrison,
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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