New Land Bank in Cook County, IL Takes on Challenge of Vacant and Abandoned Properties

As the national housing market makes its slow recovery following the foreclosure crisis, communities across the country continue to struggle with the glut of abandoned and vacant properties resulting from the crisis.  These properties not only create problems for their neighbors in the form of blight, increased crime rates, and declining property values, but are a significant burden on local municipalities in terms of lost and declining tax revenues as well as maintenance and demolition costs.

Stemming from a need for a proactive and development-oriented solution to handling abandoned and vacant properties, the newly created Cook County Land Bank Authority aims to take on the challenge of returning the more than 20,000 vacant and abandoned properties in Cook County to productive community and economic use.  Modeled after other successful land banks, the Cook County land bank with have the authority to acquire, hold, and transfer real property through cook County for the purposes of “promoting redevelopment and reuse of vacant, abandoned, and tax-delinquent properties; supporting targeted efforts to stabilize neighborhoods; and stimulating residential, commercial and industrial development.”

While still in its earlier stages, proposed short-term and intermediate uses of properties acquired by the land bank include the development of rental housing, urban agriculture, and the use of vacant building by community groups.  The first major step the county has taken to implement the land bank has been the selection of its first Board of Directors, which represent a diverse group of individuals with wide ranging experience in the areas of housing, real estate, open space, and community development.  Interestingly, the ordinance establishing the land bank stipulates that at least one board member shall be a representative from a CDFI, a role that we are excited to see will be filled by Calvin Holmes, who will bring an excellent CDFI perspective on the nexus of community and economic development in his current role as President of the Chicago Community Loan Fund, a current FUND client.

We look forward to watching the progress of the Cook County Land Bank Authority and hope that it will prove to be a unique and much needed solution to the challenge of long-term vacancy and foreclosure in the county.  What role do you see for nonprofits and community organizations in utilizing vacant and abandoned properties to improve their local communities?  What types of uses do you believe will help to create the greatest community and economic benefits?

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