Land bank hitting stride in 3rd year

oswego land bank news
The Oswego County Land Bank is moving into 2019 with an influx of grant funding and plans to use a vast array of experience in housing rehabilitations and demolitions to advance the organization’s impact.

With the land bank now entering its third year, officials are seeking to renovate more than a dozen houses in the coming year and demolish a handful of others. To date, the land bank has put roughly $1 million worth of property back on the tax rolls, completing more than 20 rehabilitations and 16 demolitions.

By early spring, the land bank is expecting to have four more rehabilitations completed and another half-dozen started.

Executive Director Kim Park, who took the reins of the organization in April 2017, said the land bank has established an efficient process to rehabilitate properties and improve neighborhoods over the past 18 months. Currently in possession of 30 properties, more than a dozen of which are up for sale or expected to be in the coming months, the land bank has made significant strides over the past year as the organization has shifted efforts to renovate more properties while continuing to demolish some of the worst eyesores in the county.

“When I look at what we have accomplished in a very short period of time, I feel really good about it,” Park said. “To have put back about $1 million on the tax rolls in this amount of time, and the amount of property we’ve gone in and cleaned up, it’s been a lot to accomplish.”

During a recent interview, the energy around the land bank was evident — Park answered several phone calls from individuals inquiring about land bank properties and making purchase offers on some of the organization’s recently renovated homes.

Formed in 2016, the county land bank seeks to improve the housing stock in Oswego County by returning vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties to productive use. Funded in large part by grants, including a recent $1.2 million award from the state, officials are striving to balance renovations with demolitions in an effort to become a self-sustaining entity that could have a long-term impact on the county’s housing stock.

With the recent grant award, Park said the land bank plans to rehabilitate roughly 17 properties with the funds and demolish eight dilapidated structures.

Officials say the land bank uses property sales, which to date total more than $500,000, and reinvests in additional properties in an effort to impact as many properties as possible.

As the organization is starting to hit its stride, officials looked back on the past two-plus years and the growing pains the organization went through as board members navigated the housing and rehabilitation market and crafted an approach to improving neighborhoods and targeting properties that would have the greatest impact.

“It’s really been an interesting ride thus far,” Park said. “With some really good end products, but it has really been something to get there.”

The Oswego County Land Bank started as an antipoverty initiative, according to officials, and the housing stock in the county is a problem that needs continual attention. Park said the land bank is able to handle “the worst of the worst,” including properties that others are not willing to invest in.

Park said the land bank can also facilitate private property redevelopments that otherwise would not be possible. The land bank has more control over properties and who ultimately takes ownership compared to the county tax auction and other previous methods of unloading municipality-owned tax foreclosures.

Land bank officials are currently planning about two years out, Park said, and throughout the winter the organization took action that would allow for contractors to “hit the ground running” when the weather breaks to start renovating a handful of properties.

“I think you’re going to continue to see more of these properties be improved, be rehabbed and go back on the tax rolls,” Park said. “You’re going to see this — and this is what our whole goal has always been — you’re going to see the housing stock come back up to where it needs to be.”

There are many benefits to improving the housing stock, Park said, noting increased property values can ease the burden on property taxpayers throughout the county as well as improving the appeal of various neighborhoods.

In addition to benefits to the housing stock, Park said the land bank uses local contractors and secures grant funding that provides an influx of cash to the local economy.

“We’re hiring local contractors, local trades, buying all our goods and services locally and that’s really very important to us,” Park said.

Officials have said the land bank has now built relationships with roofers, plumbers, general contractors and others that have reduced the cost of doing business and allowed funds to go further.

Unlike many land banks in the state, Park manages the organization’s rehabilitation projects in-house rather than hiring outside help, according to land bank Board of Directors President Shane Broadwell, adding her approach helps lower costs for the organization.

Officials have noted the land bank is also assisted financially by a close relationship with the county, which provides properties acquired through tax foreclosure along with legal assistance and reduced landfill costs for demolitions.

Broadwell said the land bank’s approach to reach a sustainable model is becoming reality as the organization continues to use grant funding wisely and is turning a profit, albeit sometimes minimal, on most renovation projects.

“We’re not losing money on many properties,” Broadwell said. “With the rehabs we’re getting our money back and putting some money back in the pot. That’s very positive for the Oswego County Land Bank. There are a lot of others that are very dependent on big donations from municipalities.”

Sustainability could be important in the future, officials note, as grant money may eventually dry up.