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Cook County Land Bank ordinance up for debate

The Cook County Land Bank ordinance, proposed on Dec. 18 by Pres. Toni Preckwinkle and Comm. Bridget Gainer, will be reviewed by the Cook County Board’s Finance Committee on Jan. 15. The outcomes of this meeting and the subsequent public hearing will inform the final ordinance and next steps. MPC will attend both meetings to continue to advocate for the land bank as a necessary tool that will help communities distressed by foreclosures revitalize. Even as the foreclosure crisis improves in other regions around the country, nearly 10 percent of Cook County’s housing units remain vacant and 85,000 foreclosure cases are pending in the Circuit Court—making the need for a solution critical.

Many regions already are experiencing the benefits of land banks. More than 80 land banks or similar entities exist nationally; their structures, size, and priorities vary widely. In light of this and the tremendous scope of the foreclosure and vacancy problem, the Cook County Board appointed MPC President MarySue Barrett to lead an Advisory Committee, comprised of development, financial, legal, government, and civic experts, charged with recommending a structure and the priorities, mission, and potential for a countywide land bank. The Committee’s recommendations, captured in the ordinance, are to create a Land Bank Authority as an agency of the County that is governed by an independent Board of Directors. The proposed land bank would acquire, hold and transfer property to support redevelopment and reuse of vacant, abandoned, foreclosed or tax-delinquent properties. The targeted efforts would stabilize neighborhoods and stimulate commercial and residential development in ways consistent with local government plans and community priorities. The Committee also recommends that to achieve success and impact local communities, the land bank should be granted the powers to acquire properties, clean title and clear taxes, perform predevelopment activities, and sell or transfer properties in concert with local municipalities.

The proposed Land Bank Authority is a creative strategy with enormous potential to streamline redevelopment processes, both to make it easier for municipalities and the private market to move ahead with development plans and to help the region as a whole address the vast number of vacant and abandoned properties. For instance, the land bank could assist with assembling land or conducting environmental remediation to make sites more attractive for development; reusing properties with little market value for productive purposes, such as parks and gardens; rehabilitating homes that have fallen into disrepair; or simply maintaining sites that would otherwise fall into disrepair. It’s important to underscore that the land bank will not seize properties. In fact, for the land bank to reach its full potential, communities and the County will need to work hand-in-hand to identify the right properties, their best interim uses, and plans for future redevelopment. Many communities in our region know all too well how cumbersome it is to navigate the processes of securing and maintaining abandoned properties, and transferring government land into private hands. The Land Bank Authority would help centralize and streamline these processes, clearing the path for communities or the private market to redevelop vacant and abandoned sites.

Cook County has been thoughtful in its approach to creating a proposal for a Land Bank Authority that can help communities in our region address the large and growing glut of vacant and abandoned properties. MPC looks forward to continuing to advance this pragmatic solution to strengthen and revitalize our neighborhoods.

Please join MPC and Urban Land Institute Chicago, along with Pres. Toni Preckwinkle, Comm. Bridget Gainer, Principal at Teska Associates, Inc., Scott Goldstein, and Director of the Thriving Communities Institute Jim Rokakis, on Thursday, Feb. 7, from noon to 2 p.m., for a lively discussion on the proposed Land Bank Authority. Registration is available here.

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For 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area’s toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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