Wednesday, November 12, 2014 || By Michael Romain
Maywood-based Nonprofit Housing Helpers is also seeking to provide additional reinforcements to the village’s vacancy crisis
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 || By Michael Romain || Updated: November 12, 2014 || 2:30 PM
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MAYWOOD || Nearly two years after the Cook County Commission unanimously passed an ordinance to create the Cook County Land Bank Authority, the bank is looking to make inroads into Maywood.
This year has been something of a watershed for the infant organization, which is tasked with obtaining “properties in areas that may be risky but are ripe for a turnaround, clear title to them and find a suitable developer,” according to the land bank’s Executive Director Brian White during an interview with the Chicago Tribune.
In July, The PrivateBank extended a $10 million working capital line to developers that acquire properties from the bank. The PrivateBank’s direct investment is the first of its kind for the authority.
Since its creation in January 2013, more than 23 foreclosed properties have been donated or sold at below-market prices to the bank. Another 35 were under review as of November 7, according to the Tribune.
What the land bank does with those properties and that financing can set a major precedent for future endeavors that are similar in nature.
White was at an October 15, Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting in Maywood to propose that the village Board of Trustees consider authorizing a memorandum of understanding between Maywood and the bank.
According to varying reports, there are 219 properties classified as vacant and 332 foreclosure filings in Maywood; 126 properties are privately owned with two or more years of forfeited taxes. The Maywood-based nonprofit Housing Helpers — which targets deteriorating properties, rehabs them and sales them to working-class homebuyers at market rates — has identified about 21 problem properties within the village.
White said the land bank would only target those parcels where there is strategic value and an actual plan for redeveloping them. He said the land bank, although a government entity, is ultimately driven by private demand.
“We’re demand-driven,” White said. “We aren’t looking to have all of your [distressed properties]. [We’re] looking to go out and acquire [properties] strategically in ways that make sense.”
White said that the land bank can act as a conduit between parties who want to acquire property but can’t and those who want to get rid of property, but also face obstacles to letting it go.
The authority would work with the village in a variety of functions, such as extinguishing liens and back-taxes. White also said that the bank is able to pledge parcels, establishing site control for small entities and nonprofit developers that typically find it hard to acquire funding due to a lack of capital — an essential factor in establishing site control.
“We can take [the parcel], hold it, take our committment to the funding source [and] say, ‘They now have site control,” White said.
White said that the owner of a property at 238 S. 12th Avenue has expressed interest in donating to the land bank. The property has $25,000 in delinquent taxes and a $2,200 Maywood lien, which the bank could acquire from the village. It would then hold the property — maintaining its condition — until an interested developer comes around.
White also noted that a vacant lot at 409 S. 21st Avenue, the site of a single-family home that a private bank demolished earlier this year, was donated to the land bank. The bank is holding that property until a plan is devised for its use.
In addition to mitigating local blight, White said that the land bank also has the potential to create job opportunities in the event that it needs to demolish or deconstruct properties.
“The demolition of property typically requires two people to drive the back-hoe and one to set the site,” White said. “Deconstruction requires taking a property down piece-by-piece, which takes a lot more time — you salvage the building material and have an opportunity to train people on how the building is put together….This recyles money and social good broadly throughout the community.”
Village attorney Michael Jurusik said that the memo of understanding, which the board approved unanimously, is “really a base document to get the ball rolling,” noting that the land bank is an opportunity for the village to unload some of its many problem properties onto the county. The land bank would do the heavy lifting of maintaining the property and facilitating the development process.
Housing Helpers Executive Director Sarah Lira said that her organization is in total support of the land bank and is interested in being one of its developers if and when the bank acquires properties in Maywood.
Lira said that over the years the nonprofit, which was started in 1990, has put 24 families into 24 renovated homes. Recently, Housing Helpers has been responsible for the renovation of 15 affordable homes, six of which are completed, five of which were sold and three of which are currently under construction.
“There is a demand in Maywood and the market exists for affordable housing,” Lira said.
Housing Helper’s Board President Wayne Beals, however, expressed concern about unsecured vacant homes neighboring those being renovated by the nonprofit.
“It’s difficult to sale homes at market value…if homes across the street and next door to them are vacant,” said Beals, a realtor by profession.
Beals and Lira suggested that the Board should utilize a state statute that gives local governments the right to appoint a receiver to secure properties that are unresolved and whose owners are unresponsive.
But some Board members felt that Housing Helpers would be duplicating efforts by the land bank. What the trustees considered duplication, however, Beals considered reinforcement.
“Every stakeholder at the table trying to help should bring forth their efforts,” he said. “We’re proposing we add another tool to the village’s kit without adding costs…[This will] make it easier to take our blocks back.” VFP
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