Chicago Tribune: Cook County land bank committee to be proposed

CCH has expressed support for Commissioner Gainer’s land bank proposal, and looks forward to working for its enactment.

Preckwinkle hospital board shakeup leads to resignationCook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, right, listens as Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia talks at a news conference Monday. (Nancy Stone / June 18, 2012)
By Mary Ellen Podmolik, Tribune staff reporter

Two members of the Cook County Board took the first step Tuesday toward creating a countywide land bank to handle the abundant supply of vacant, abandoned, tax-delinquent and foreclosed homes and commercial properties within the county.

Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, proposed a resolution at Tuesday’s board meeting to establish an advisory committee tasked with exploring the formation of a non-profit redevelopment authority for the county.

If approved, the Cook County Land Bank Authority would get its start in the south suburbs, partnering with efforts that the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association have under way in Blue Island, Oak Forest and Park Forest. That group received a grant in 2010 from the  Department of Housing and Urban Development to create a land bank, though no parcels have been assembled.

“We’ve been working very closely with Cook County through this process to see how we can build off of each other and complement each other,” said Janice Morrissey, the association’s director of housing initiatives.

Land banks allow entities to take possession of unproductive, distressed properties, through direct purchases or non-cash transfers. The properties are then held tax-free in a trust, typically for one to four years, until they can become part of a redevelopment plan and are transferred to new ownership.

Initial funding for a land bank and a pilot program would not involve taypayer dollars, according to a spokesman for Preckwinkle.

As proposed, the Cook County Land Bank Advisory Committee would comprise public officials from the county, the city of Chicago and some suburbs, the Cook County state’s attorney, regional planning agencies, civic leaders, local real estate professionals and affordable housing developers. It would not include any representatives from banks, which own or control much of the foreclosed inventory.

“A land bank, like any other one thing, is not a panacea,” Gainer said. “But we’re facing a pretty unprecedented real estate market. There’s tons of inventory out there and it’s hard to get financing. We’re in these extraordinary circumstances and we need to bring in tools that we haven’t used before.”

In Cook County, 1,971 homes completed the foreclosure process and became bank-owned last month, according to RealtyTrac.

The committee could be in place this summer and as proposed, would have to make its recommendations within two months of its formation.  Preckwinkle and Gainer are trying to move the idea forward using the county’s home rule authority, rather than through state legislation, as other states have done.

County land banks are in operation in other parts of the Midwest, including in the counties that include Flint, Mich.; Cleveland; and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Nationally, there are more than 80 land banks.

Preckwinkle is expected to announce the county’s interest in developing a land bank at a conference on vacant properties this week in New Orleans.

The formation of a land bank has been discussed at the county level for months, but there has been disagreement about whether a pilot program should be done in one specific area of the county or whether it should be rolled out countywide.

“We recognize that we have to be extraordinarily careful as to how we bring this forward, how we get this structured and making the formal recommendation,” said Herman Brewer, bureau chief of the county’s bureau of economic development. “This is an exciting opportunity but there are a lot of moving parts.”