Demolitions, or rather the lack of demolitions, in East Toledo brought out distraught residents when Lucas County Land Bank executive director Cindy Geronimo arrived to speak to the East Toledo Club.
Over 40 residents jammed into the East Toledo Senior Center at Navarre Park expressing concerns over nuisance homes that have been a menace to the neighborhood, in some cases, for a decade.
One man said, “I invested in my home on the east side 13 years ago and my branch manager over here from the bank will attest to that I invested again this year. After years, I’ve looked at three (dilapidated) properties on my street— one of them I see right outside my front door and one of them I see right outside my back door. That’s what I get to look at, and another one is two doors down next to my daughter who has a newborn baby, (and that house) has been burned down.”
The man continued by saying he repeatedly telephoned the city’s nuisance abatement line, and nothing came of it. Another woman talked about a garage that had burned three years ago and still stood, despite her attempts of repeatedly calling the city’s nuisance abatement hotline.
Story after story followed from local residents until one man became raucous, blaming the whole housing situation on the banking industry and faulty loans.
Geronimo explained that the Lucas County Land Reutilization Corporation (or land bank), a community improvement corporation created to strengthen neighborhoods by returning vacant and abandoned properties to productive use, seeks to alleviate the situation.
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.
Geronimo said in 2011, the first year of the land bank’s existence, 50 homes in East Toledo were identified and three were demolished. She explained that number was low because the land bank was laying a foundation.
In 2012, she said there were nine home demolitions in East Toledo, including four scheduled this month and 60 more in the spring.
In partnership with the city, she expects close to 900 city wide will be identified for demolition by the land bank each year, which is about half of the 1,800 vacant and abandoned homes that have become nuisance properties. She expects about 600 per year to be demolished, double the 300 per year the city was demolishing before the land bank was created. She said the city is still doing some demolitions, including fire and other emergency demolitions.
“Lot of frustration”
There are currently close to 100 homes in East Toledo now identified for demolition, but they have to go through an administrative process that could include an appeal from the landowner. She said the complete process typically takes six months, but some have been completed in five months.
“It’s a fluid list that keeps changing,” Geronimo said. “Right now, I can tell you that of the 60 homes we have (to be demolished in East Toledo this spring), some of them may come off because of an appeal.
“We really want to work these processes out,” Geronimo continued. “We’re really just here trying to get a handle on the processes and figure out the best way to get it out to the public. Everybody has had to change the way we work and it’s taken a lot of resources. We’ve had to change the way we work.
“I’ve been in government my whole entire career and I will say, in government sometimes it can take a long time to get things done. (At-large Councilmen) Shaun (Enright), (Mike) Craig, and myself — we all live in the same neighborhoods we grew up in,” the director added, “and you know there is a lot of crime and there are a lot of things that need to be fixed.
“Collectively, we are trying to get things done. Hopefully, after taking down 900 homes we can make a difference in the community. There is a lot of frustration. I’m there and I see how hard it is to make changes.”
Each home identified is inspected by nuisance abatement code enforcement officials from the city. Geronimo said even if they are not slated for demolition, they will be cited for nuisance and she promises the land bank “will find out what’s going on with that property.”
Geronimo said the land bank is focusing mostly on demolitions now because of the grant from the Ohio attorney general’s office. 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.
Some homes are being resold by the land bank. Geronimo said five have been sold this year with one still available for purchase.
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.
If you purchase a home, Geronimo said you must show that you have at least $10,000 available for reinvestment. When the land bank acquires the property, all previously owed property taxes are waived, and when it comes to a new owner, it will have a clean title.
Geronimo said the land bank is also seeking out commercial properties for renovation or demolition.
Geronimo said the land bank is trying to find out what’s going on with the historic Masonic Building on Main Street, which since 2007 has had a fence around it so residents have had to walk on the street to get around the building. The fence was put up apparently because of building material falling from several stories above.
They also hope to tackle commercial brownfields.
“With any of the brownfields that exist, we’ve talked to the University of Toledo to do environmental remediation,” Geronimo said.
Geronimo and District 3 councilman Mike Craig explained that environmental remediation is basically using plants to remediate a brownfield.
“That’s a passive way to clear a brownfield,” Craig said, “and maybe after 10 years of cleaning the land it can be rezoned maybe commercial or residential.”
To report homes or commercial property, Geronimo can be reached at 419-213-4293 weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.