Cuyahoga County Council Passes $30 Million Housing Program

In Cleveland's Hough neighborhood, a man works on his lawn next to a Cuyahoga Land Bank house.
In Cleveland's Hough neighborhood, a man works on his lawn next to a Cuyahoga Land Bank house. [Nick Castele / ideastream]

Cuyahoga County Council unanimously approved a $30 million new housing program on Tuesday, shifting the county land bank’s focus from vacant property demolition to rehabilitation.

Under the program, the county’s development department will help homeowners pay for repairs and mortgages with a principal of $70,000 or less. The program tasks the Cuyahoga Land Bank with encouraging new construction on vacant lots.

“This program will rehabilitate vacant and abandoned homes, it will help homeowners keep their houses up to code and it will facilitate responsible private development,” Council President Dan Brady said after the measure passed.

Program rules require 90 percent of the money to go to neighborhoods considered affordable or middle-market, defined as census tracts where the median single-family home is below 175 percent of the countywide median home value.

The legislation instructs the land bank to make “strategic investment” in such neighborhoods. The land bank will also work with the county, cities and nonprofits to plan for new projects in neighborhoods that have faced “long-term disinvestment.”

Funding for the six-year program will come from the land bank’s reserves, casino revenues and a 5 percent fee applied to delinquent property tax payments.

Formed in 2009, the land bank has demolished more than 7,000 houses left vacant in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, according to a presentation given to county council in November. The land bank has also rehabbed around 1,800 properties.

For years, the land bank drew on federal money from the state’s Hardest-Hit Fund for demolitions. The U.S. Treasury Department sent the dollars to the states to help communities recover from the financial crash. But that money is set to run out next year, and the county is nearing the end of its own $50 million demolition program. 

“We necessarily have to begin transitioning and using all of the funds that we’re getting to target neighborhoods and to do it for renovation,” Cuyahoga Land Bank President Gus Frangos told council in November.

Last month, housing advocates urged council to expand the program to include renters. They suggested the county could create a flexible fund to help people with low and moderate incomes avoid evictions.

Council didn’t take up those suggestions in the legislation. At last month’s committee meeting, Brady said he wanted the housing program “narrowly focused,” but said he was open to talking about helping renters in a different piece of legislation.

“I know this legislation does not directly address all the policy objectives that some would like to have seen,” Brady said Tuesday night, “but it is important to remember that this is only one step along the way.”

The land bank and county development department will give council on annual report on foreclosure and vacancy rates, home values, private investment and the default rate of participants in the program.

Read the legislation below. Mobile users can view here.

 

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