House bill would help cleanup blighted buildings in Lucas County

Kelly J. Kaczala

        Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, vice chairman of the Lucas County Land Bank, testified on Wednesday before the House Economic and Workforce Development Committee in support of House Bill 252, which would create a $50 million fund in Ohio to help land banks cleanup blighted buildings, including old industrial and commercial properties.
        “This legislation will create jobs and strengthen neighborhoods throughout Ohio, including in Toledo,” Kapszukiewicz said. “In 2010, the Lucas County Land Bank was the second county land bank to form in Ohio. Times were much bleaker then. The Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis had hit Ohio hard and Toledo and Lucas County were not spared. Thousands and thousands of abandoned properties riddled our neighborhoods. Not just abandoned houses, but abandoned industrial hulks and commercial buildings, too.”
        He noted that Gov. Mike DeWine, when he was attorney general, directed settlement dollars toward residential demolition in 2012. And federal Hardest Hit Funds were also spent on blight elimination since 2014.
        But, he added, it “simply isn’t enough.”
        The bill would create the Land Reutilization Demolition Program to fund the demolition of structures on blighted property. In the bill, blighted property is defined as property that: poses a direct threat to public health or safety or has been designated as unfit for human habitation or use; has a tax delinquency for more than the property is worth, or has several statutorily specified conditions that collectively adversely affect surrounding property values or limit land use in the area.
Razed properties
        Kapszukiewicz, the land bank’s incorporator and founding board member, said he’s seen what a tremendous difference it has made in the last nine years.
        The Lucas County Land Bank has helped take control of more than 6,000 abandoned properties. Of those, 3,600 of the worst were razed, 700 were redeveloped, and 1,500 side lots were transferred to neighbors.
        “We’ve done this by leveraging more than $50 million of private and public investment,” the mayor said. “In almost every neighborhood in Toledo, and every community in Lucas County, the Land Bank has made a lasting impact. House Bill 252 will create jobs by demolishing sites that will never be redeveloped while the dirty, empty, and obsolete buildings of the past remain. We estimate that there are at least 300 of these abandoned commercial buildings in just Toledo alone.”
        Abandoned buildings can also lead to tragedy, he said.
        A few years ago, a teenager died after entering a 100-year-old seven story apartment building that has been abandoned for at least a decade.
        “All of its windows are broken and all of its entrances are boarded,” he said. Yet the teen still got in and fell to his death in an open elevator shaft while playing with friends in the building.
        “It is a tragedy that could have been avoided. If communities have the resources to remove these dangerous buildings once and for all, `kids being kids’ will not lead to such awful ends.”
        While razing such buildings to avoid tragedy is critical, he said their demolition to position them for investment is also key.
        “This same apartment building is on a site less than a mile from I-75. No one wants to rent an apartment there anymore, but many might want that site for logistics, light industrial or other modern business needs. What we know from the private sector, however, is that sites that aren’t `shovel ready’ are simply not attractive or cost-effective. It is up to us, the public, to make that investment first.”
        Kapszukiewicz said House Bill 252 is a cost-effective solution.
        “It’s not a free ride for places like Toledo,” he said. “We have to put up real money to match your dollars and I am confident that we will if you help us by taking the first step and passing this bill.”
        County land banks, now numbering 54 in Ohio, are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the funds to make a lasting difference, he said.
        “I know that our land bank will create jobs and strengthen neighborhoods if House Bill 252 is passed.”
        The bill would appropriate $50 million for 2020 and 2021 to fund the program, which will be administered by the Director of Development Services. Under the bill, the director would be authorized to award grants to county land banks if the land bank that receives the grant commits additional funds in an amount equal or greater than the amount of the grant. The director can also set other conditions fur use of the funds. However, the director is prohibited, during any fiscal year, from awarding a land bank more than 20 percent of the funds appropriated to the program by the General Assembly in that fiscal year.


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