Don't (land) bank on it

Last summer, as election season approached, the Wayne County Treasurer's Office announced that 7,000 properties seized because of unpaid taxes were being made available to local nonprofit organizations under a special initiative involving the county's land bank program. Community development corporations, educational groups and faith-based organizations along with owners of property located adjacent to the county-owned parcels were eligible.

The nonprofits and neighboring owners needed to present a plan for the property to be in use within a year, and to maintain the property in accordance with local governmental codes. In return, the county would charge a mere $50 processing fee and hustle things along.

"I would think you want to expedite it and put it into productive use as quickly as you could," says Land Bank board member Phillip Cavanaugh, also a county commissioner.

But that's not what has happened.

To date, only 31 nonprofits have either received properties, been approved or have their applications in process, says Turkia Awada Mullin, executive director of the Land Bank. She'd like to have accomplished more but she says the County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz has not released the bulk of properties to the Land Bank.

"Government does not have the wherewithal to maintain them. We're not in the business of buying up land. We're stuck with them, but they should be treated like the 'hot potato' concept. My goal should be to immediately get those back into productive use at a minimum cost to the county," she says.

News Hits tried for a week but couldn't get the treasurer or anyone else from his office to answer our questions about what's holding up the transfers. Cavanaugh complains that it should have happened by now.

"With most counties and successful land banks, the treasurer conveys all those to the land bank," he says. "That gives the land bank the opportunity to bundle them, to bond on them. We could have been bonding and demolishing all the other structures already."

You may recall that Cavanaugh ran against Wojtowicz for the treasurer's job in the Democratic primary (See "Tax Bumps and Rolls," July 23, 2008) calling for drastic changes in how the office operates.

The next quarterly Land Bank board meeting is Thursday, Dec. 18, and Mullin says she'll give an overview of what the Land Bank has accomplished: nearly two dozen properties scheduled to close this month as part of a special program for new developments or improvements to Land Bank properties, an increasing number of churches improving properties in their neighborhoods, a plan for green demolition of properties.

But she's not sure what else she can say about the nonprofits program. "We're willing to help. The jurisdiction is with the treasurer right now," she says.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
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