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Cook County creates a Land Bank Authority to repurpose harmful vacant, abandoned properties

Whether or not we realize it, vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties affect each and everyone one of us. While some of us have only experienced the housing crisis through statistics we observe on the news, others are fighting to stay in our homes or know friends, family, or neighbors who have lost their homes. Impacts are far reaching, of course touching the families experiencing foreclosure the most, but also neighbors, neighborhoods, and municipalities. Properties that are vacant or delinquent have been found to lower the values of homes nearby, particularly if they are foreclosed, vacant, and delinquent on their property taxes. The longer a vacant property lingers, the more it costs a municipality in tracking, maintenance, and enforcement. The scale and magnitude of the problem is at a point that demands the attention of our communities, businesses, and government. I am excited that one such effort, the Cook County Land Bank, is officially moving forward.

The Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed the Cook County Land Bank ordinance last Wednesday, Jan. 16. The ordinance created the Cook County Land Bank Authority, a countywide land bank dedicated to acquiring, managing, maintaining, and returning vacant properties to productive use. The process leading up to creation of the Land Bank ordinance engaged a wide range of stakeholders, including a formally created Advisory Committee, chaired by MPC’s MarySue Barrett, and an Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel. All in all, more than 100 key stakeholders, experts, and leaders informed the ordinance. The result of this thoughtful work is a Land Bank Authority that is an agency of the County and governed by an independent Board of Directors.

The Land Bank will work with local municipalities to create and execute a comprehensive plan to jump start economic growth through the redevelopment of resident, commercial, and industrial land in Cook County. While the Land Bank will not be able to solve the foreclosure and abandonment problem across the region, it is a powerful tool that communities can tap to take control of properties that continue to decimate whole blocks, neighborhoods, and the region’s tax base, stability, and economic growth.

For those interested in learning more or engaging in a lively discussion, MPC and ULI Chicago are hosting a roundtable on the Land Bank Authority, featuring Pres. Toni Preckwinkle, Comm. Bridget Gainer, Principal at Teska Associates, Inc. Scott Goldstein, and Director of the Thriving Communities Institute Jim Rokakis. The event is on Thursday, Feb. 7, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Preregistration is required and space is filling up fast.

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