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Cook County land bank one step away from creation
Effort would assemble abandoned properties in preparation for redevelopment

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Chicago Tribune
by Mary Ellen Podmolik

A proposed ordinance that would create a land bank in Cook County received a broad base of support at a public hearing Tuesday, though community groups and residents expressed the desire for their voices to be heard in any redevelopment plans.If approved Wednesday by the Cook County Board, the Cook County Land Bank would be the largest land bank in the nation, in terms of geography. Its creation is considered the next step in addressing the foreclosure crisis, and numerous similar efforts to form such organizations are under way around the country.Locally, the quasi-governmental land bank would take possession of unproductive, distressed properties through direct purchases, no-cash bids at scavenger tax sales and noncash transfers from government entities and banks looking to rid their balance sheets of real estate holdings. The properties, held tax-free in a trust, would then be transferred to new owners for agreed-upon residential or commercial redevelopment efforts. Almost 200,000 housing units are vacant in Cook County, according to an Urban Land Institute report."It's not just the person who loses their home," said Commissioner Bridget Gainer, D-Chicago, who proposed the ordinance with board President Toni Preckwinkle. "It's the person who lives next door to that person and the person who lives on the block and the business owner who lives on the arterial street and it's a ripple effect across the county."At Tuesday's hearing of the board's finance committee, several residents in communities hard hit by foreclosure voiced their support for the measure but worried that it might lead to a lack of affordable housing.Sharon Lewis, a 50-year resident of Chicago's South Shore neighborhood, said she supports the creation of a land bank but told commissioners it is important that any redevelopment efforts include local participation and focus on creating affordable housing and job opportunities in neighborhoods."We know speculative real estate developers from as far as California and New York are ready to capitalize on the creation of this land bank," Lewis said. "Local participation and benefits are crucial. ... We have all seen the effects of absentee landlords and predatory lending."Mark Carter, a resident of the North Lawndale neighborhood, echoed those concerns. "We support the land bank but only if the land bank includes us," he said "We've watched comprehensive development plans happen in our community and time after time, we've been excluded. We would hope that this land bank would look at jobs, contracts and opportunities."Carter also noted that in his community, many young mothers and fathers with children are living in abandoned properties, and redevelopment efforts have to take them into account, too.The county board's finance committee voted 14-0 in favor of the ordinance, with three commissioners absent. The measure is expected to be passed when the full board considers it Wednesday, after which it could take a year to begin assembling properties.


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