An East Toledo Block Watch organization held a contest to see who could report the most nuisance homes to a Lucas County land bank.
The winner? An East Toledo elderly couple who turned in 42 homes. The prize? A t-shirt from the block watch organization.
Block Watch leader Robin Sopka said the winning couple has been “religiously dedicated” to her Block Watch group since it was formed six years ago, but explains that they do not want their names in print because they are being harassed by someone in the neighborhood.
The Lucas County Land Reutilization Corporation, because of state legislation passed in July 2010, now has the power to acquire and sell foreclosed tax delinquent properties without going through the long court process leading to a sheriff’s sale. It was the second land bank established in Ohio.
In July this year, the land bank was awarded a $3.6 million grant from the Ohio Attorney General. With matching funds from the City of Toledo, the land bank has $6.8 million available through December 2013.
Continued funding for the program comes through an increase in the interest rate charged delinquent property taxpayers. County Treasurer Wade Kapsukiewicz estimates annual revenue at $1.5 million.
As of Dec. 5, 76 homes in East Toledo, seven in Oregon and six in Jerusalem Township have been placed on the land bank’s list. Ninety-three homes in East Toledo, Zone E, are slated for demolition. One vacant lot in East Toledo, at 2244 Genesee Street, is on the land bank’s list for its urban gardening program. Commercial property also qualifies.
Sopka says the program has already started making a difference in Toledo’s south side. She expects the land bank to start reaching more East Toledo homes in the fall and winter of 2013-14, so there is still time to report them. However, her block watch contest did not get as much participation as she would have liked.
“We didn’t get any submitted from Birmingham or the other areas that don’t have block watches, like around Howland and Thurston, because a lot of us walk around those neighborhoods. But the neighborhoods that people don’t walk around, they aren’t taking any notice,” Sopka said.
“The worst ones, in my opinion, are in the St. Louis area. There are like 10 houses in a row that need to be torn down. They’ve been stripped of the copper pipes, the roof is gone, the siding is gone, and they are not on the list,” she continued.
“It’s right there on the edge of Main Street. You take a right instead of a left, and you go right into blight. People are afraid to come to East Toledo, and it’s not so much the crime. Crime is not really that bad, but it’s the houses, and they assume that it is bad. They get that impression.
“There are at least six houses on Navarre. Do them first — that’s Route 2 and people are coming in from every state down Route 2. They should get them first, but they don’t listen.”
Sopka says properties should also be reported to the city’s nuisance abatement department (code enforcement), which is partnering with the land bank.
“Some of them need to be torn down, and that’s nuisance abatement. (Land Bank) is tearing down houses, but only certain ones that have qualifications. Like, they can’t be where the property owner owns 26 of them and he let them all go bad,” Sopka said.
Sopka is a believer that old neighborhoods deserve attention. She believes the architecture should be preserved.
“They all have high ceilings and the beautiful floors, but nobody can afford to keep them in repair because a lot of people are out of work,” Sopka said.
“The land bank, their mission is to get the neighbors to reinvest in their own neighborhood, so they are going to forgive back taxes and forgive all this money owed if a neighbor qualifies. They have a plan where they can take over all these old properties in their neighborhood. If they find a qualified recipient, they will forgive everything. But if people can’t afford this, then they are not going to OK them.”
If you are a Lucas County homeowner that lives next to a vacant lot that shares a common boundary, you may be able to purchase that lot for $100 under its side lot program, as long as you are current in your taxes and meet other specifications. Otherwise, a property will cost at least $250.
To report homes or commercial property, Lucas County Land Bank executive director Cindy Geronimo can be reached at 419-213-4293 weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.