The Seventh Annual Ohio Land Bank Conference was held Monday through Wednesday September 11th through the 13th at the Crown Plaza Hotel in downtown Cleveland. Presented by the Thriving Communities Program of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, members of 46 Land Banks throughout the State of Ohio, along with many others, met for two days of seminars, networking, and speeches.
The keynote speaker of the event was former Ohio Treasurer (and current head of the Consumer Protection Bureau) Richard Cordray who stopped in for Lunch on his way to the West Coast. While his aid was coy about whether or not he was going to run for governor, her boss sure delivered what was in effect a campaign speech. The one comment of his that stuck out was that, when it comes to delinquent properties; “There’s no fixing until someone comes in the fix them.” That’s where the Land Banks come in.
There were seminars as well, at an extra cost, on location mobile workshops for those interested in getting out of the hotel and into the area. Cleveland’s Buckeye Neighborhood: A Case Study in Comprehensive Community Redevelopment and Rid All Green Partnership Growing Food, Jobs and Green Neighborhoods. The one that intrigued me the most was the one done by Ian Beniston and Tiffany Sokol; the Executive Director of the Youngstown Development Corporation (YNDC). They have managed without Federal subsidies or tax credits, to repurpose vacant houses in that city, sell them to permanent homeowners, and in the process increase the property values in ‘tipping point’ neighborhoods. Last year, the YNDC rehab bed 23 homes. The vast majority who work on the rehabs are local residents; laborers, electricians, etc., and they use Facebook to market them. The average day a house is on the market is 2 days, compared to a 9 month average for homes in Youngstown as a whole. Another interesting fact is that the deed requires the purchaser to occupy the house for at least five years.
Terry Schwarz, the director of Kent State’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, was prominent in two seminars at the Conference. In Rehab Strategies for Vacant Properties, she joined a panel that included Kathleen Crowther of the Cleveland Restoration Society on showing what can be done to rehab vacant properties. The main market challenge is ensuring true equity and quality of work on a project as well as establishing worth. In other words, after they rehab a house will it help raise property values on that street? Their look at the historic Scofield Mansion I found particularly interesting. Built in 1898 by Cleveland architect Levi Scofield, it was abandoned by 1997 and after complications involving the Cleveland Housing Court wound up with the County Land Bank who in turn gave it to the Restoration Society. With donated services, it was able to do some stabilizing work on the property, such as cleaning out rooms and doing much needed masonry repair. The plan is to completely restore the mansion to it’s former glory. It will be interesting to see the final results. Ms. Schwarz was also in the Vacancy and Climate Resilience Seminar where she joined Nicholas Rajkovich in showing how cities can use their vacant parcels for storm water management, green space, and reforestation programs.
Working Together, how to revitalize our neighborhoods was presented by Summit Land Bank head Patrick Bravo and the Director of Planning and Urban Development for the city of Akron,, Jason Segedy (who I remembered from a Building One Ohio Conference a few years back). They don’t want to do Hunter Morrison’s “Shrinking Cities Thing,” as they called it. Instead, they want Akron to grow. In 2016, they did a Market Analysis study for the city and many neighborhoods are ‘too affordable’. However, one=quarter of the city’s neighborhoods (like around Stan Hywet Hall) are competing very well in the real estate market.
When I asked him in a subsequent email, Jim Rokakis replied that he hoped the attendees got something truly beneficial from the conference. “I wanted them to see best practices of other land banks around the state of Ohio,” he wrote back, ” I wanted them to share ideas. I wanted them to help us chart a course going forward. When we do this, and this is our seventh, we do it to create an open and free exchange of ideas and to encourage each other in this very important work.” As for me, what did I get out of it? Having that Masters in Urban Planning gathering dust somewhere in my bedroom, nevertheless, I think that the Land Bank Conference was an excellent way to see what is now going on in community development matters in Northeast Ohio, and what individuals are doing right now to solve some serious problems in their home towns; most notably what to do with the vacant properties that still plague the home of John Kasich’s “Ohio Miracle.” In fact, I have been thinking about contacting people I know involved with the Northeast Shores Development Corporation to see if they can head out to Youngstown for the day and let Ian show them how they can apply his measures to North Shore Collinwood. After all, there are land bank houses that can be rehabilitated and sold there too.
Next year Mr. Rokakis said he wanted the Conference to be at Ohio State University in Columbus. As for this year’s conference, you can access the presentations online at https://www.wrlandconservancy.org/sessions/.
Photographs taken by James Valentino.