Land Bank Should Explore Programs To Keep Homes Occupied

It should be troubling that houses targeted by the Chautauqua County Land Bank are still occupied — not because of anything the land bank is doing wrong, but because people probably shouldn’t be living in a home that pops up on the land bank’s radar.

Gina Paradis, land bank executive director, said recently that there are few unoccupied properties on the list of possible county tax foreclosure auction acquisitions, especially in the Dunkirk area. The homes the land bank wants to purchase are for the Sales 4 Rehab program, which tries to stabilize neighborhoods by targeting blight and/or declining properties which are negatively impacting neighborhood property values or livability. By acquiring the properties, the land bank can clean them up, secure them and offer them at below-market value to interested purchasers who will commit to renovating them to specified levels.

Land bank officials are right to be wary of buying occupied homes and then evicting the tenants. It sends a bad message to the tenants of the properties and is an unnecessary expense for a program that is funded largely with taxpayer dollars. Perhaps the land bank can look to Detroit for inspiration that allowed the land bank to purchase problem properties and avoid evicting tenants, too.

According to The Detroit News, a 2015 program by Detroit’s land bank offered residents the ability to stay in their homes if they paid $1,000 for the homes, made $100 a month payments for a year to cover the property taxes and stayed current on their municipal water bills. The new homeowners had to go through a home buyer counseling course and maintain the exterior of the properties and, if they complied, the occupants would be given the deed to the property. Applicants are being screened for the financial ability to make not only the initial payments but maintain control of the property by paying taxes and their water bills, as well as maintenance.

Where to house people while the work is done and how much it would realistically cost to fix the home and keep the land bank viable would have to be worked out, but is certainly worth discussion. Such a model could boost homeownership in the city, give people a chance at homeownership and keep houses out of the hands of speculators and absentee landlords. It is at least worth discussing to see if such a program could work here.