Friday, May 15, 2015 || By Michael Romain
MAYWOOD || One year after his predecessor addressed the village’s Board of Trustees, Rob Rose (pictured left), the new executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, was in town to formally introduce himself. Rose, who said he’s in his sixth week on the job, gave a short presentation and fielded questions from an audience of about 50 during a May 13 informational session hosted by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) at council chambers, 125 S. 5th Avenue.
In many respects, the Land Bank’s purpose hasn’t changed since officials were last in town. Created by ordinance in 2013, the Land Bank is currently funded to the tune of $4.8 million and works to establish site control over vacant or abandoned homes, making them less costly, and less of a hassle, for prospective developers to acquire.
A private developer given a property by a village for ‘free’ would likely have to take care of back taxes, code violations and maintenance issues. And in the end, that ‘free’property may end up costing the developer $30,000 to $40,000, Rose noted.
“For that reason, a lot of developers who have the capacity to do work aren’t doing work, even though they have the capacity and the community has needs,” he said. “So, what we do is come in and intervene, write off those back taxes and work with the village around those code violations, so when we convey the property to a developer, at a minimum, what he knows is [he’s] got a tax-free, lien-free property that has been secured, cleaned out and maintained. What he has to worry about is just the cost of bringing it back on line. He doesn’t have those other unknowns that he’d have if he was just rying to do it by himself.”
This month, the Land Bank announced that it would target 13 Chicago neighborhoods and 13 west and south suburbs to aggressively buy and hold single- and multi-family properties in order to attract prospective developers. Maywood, Bellwood and Forest Park were among the suburbs in Proviso Township selected by the Land Bank for special attention.
The aggression is Rose’s influence and a not-so-subtle departure from the more passive approach taken by his predecessor, former executive director Brian White.
“My predecessor wanted to work from a standpoint of [not wanting] to do something until he had an end-user or end-use identified,” Rose said. “My tactic is a little bit opposite of that. In these areas we’ve identified, I want to buy as much property as we can, because we think there’s sufficient demand in those areas to take it down. But you need something like the Land Bank to come in to buy properties in bulk and to be able to work with municipalities to identify who we can work with.”
During his presentation to the board last October, White said that the bank would only target specific parcels that have strategic value and where there’s an actual plan for their redevelopment — unlike Rose’s approach of casting a much wider net and betting on entire communities, instead of singular parcels.
“We’re demand-drive,” White said at the time. “We aren’t looking to have all of your [distressed properties]. [We’re] looking to go out and acquire [properties] strategically and in ways that make sense.”
Rose noted that communities such as Maywood, Bellwood and Forest Park comprised “calculated risks” that he believes will ultimately pay off. But that doesn’t mean that Rose’s community-wide approach is wanting in discretion. As a May 9 Chicago Tribune article pointed out, Rose’s decision to target just 26 communities across Cook County means that dozens of others won’t receive the same level of attention.
Rose told the Tribune that there’s “too much to overcome” in certain areas, such as Chicago’s Englewood and South Lawndale neighborhoods, which were passed over by the Land Bank.
Angela Smith, the village’s economic development coordinator, said part of the reason Maywood was chosen over some of those other communities is because it has a very strong housing stock. Many of Maywood’s homes — from brick prairie-style bungalows to shingled Victorians — predate the post-WWII construction boom, which unleashed a wave of cheap, mass-produced suburban housing.
“A lot of homes here have very solid foundations,” she said, adding that this underlying reality makes the western suburb a potential treasure trove for hungry developers.
“We saw a concentration of distressed properties, but we also saw strong demand in areas that we want to focus on,” Rose said, referencing the Land Bank’s target communities.
But that the Land Bank has not specifically targeted a certain community doesn’t mean that it won’t collaborate in those areas, Rose noted.
During the May 13 meeting in Maywood, Broadview Mayor Sherman Jones asked what kind of partnership the Land Bank could create with communities, such as his, that weren’t selected.
“Let me be clear, because Broadview isn’t included [as one of] our focus communities doesn’t mean we don’t work in Broadview,” said Rose. “What it means is that I won’t be as aggressive [in Broadview] as I am in Maywood in terms of buying houses as they come along.”
Rose said that in targeted communities, the Land Bank may buy houses without having identified end users. In communities such as Broadview, however, homes and their end users should be identified in order to grease the wheels of collaboration between the municipality and the Land Bank.
Rose said the Land Bank has identified 219 vacant parcels in Maywood, 49 of which have been identified as having delinquent or forfeited taxes. The number of identified parcels hasn’t changed since White reported the same figure last year. The homes, Rose said, “is what we see as the universe of work to be done in Maywood.”
Rose noted that the Land Bank is already in the process of prepping for development a home at 238 S. 12th Avenue, a project that began on White’s watch.
“The home has been stabilized, boarded up and maintained and now we’re working to be able to convey this into the hands of someone who can bring it back on board,” Rose said. “We’re just starting the process of actually acquiring it. That’s going to take three t to four months,” he said, adding that the bank is simultaneously trying to identify a developer for the home.
“[Tonight] is about making sure we have sustainable communities,” Boykin said at the May 13 meeting. “It’s about making sure we get foreclosed properties, abandoned properties back onto the tax rolls and back into productive use so that we can make sure that we drive property values [up in] our neighborhoods.”
“There’s a lot of opportunity here in Maywood,” said Rose. “This is a village that can use our innovation. The result of our collaboration is going to be a stronger community.” VFP
Photo above: Rob Rose, the new executive director of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, introducing himself to Maywood at an informational session held May 13 and hosted by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin.