Williams County Land Bank Moving Forward To Clear Up Abandoned, Blighted Homes, Improve Tax Rolls

Williams County’s Land Bank is gearing up for a push to acquire more than a dozen homes to get them back on the tax rolls. The Williams County Land Reutilization Corporation (CCLRC) was formed last year to address the problem of abandoned and blighted homes. A five-member board was appointed to help oversee the program. The board is comprised of County Commissioners Lewis Hilkert and Brian Davis; Brian Wieland of the city of Bryan; County Treasurer Vickie Grimm and Center Township Trustee Todd Burkholder.

The CCLRC or “Land Bank” has the money and a mandate to acquire 10 homes by May 18 and 20 by the November marker. So far the agency has acquired two properties, but expects to come close to 10 by the deadline.

As with most of the properties targeted by the Land Bank, the owners were absent or uncertain about their options. “Both of the homeowners didn’t know what to do with them,” Vickie Grimm said. As treasurer, she deals with people in arrears on their property taxes and is the face of the Land Bank.

To help the property owners decide, Grimm told them the county had the perfect program for that type of issue.

Of the two properties in the county’s control, one at 503 S. Williams St., in Bryan has been demolished and the lot cleared.  The county is waiting for reimbursement from OHFA before dispatching it to Habitat for Humanity which has expressed an interest in taking the property, Grimm said.

“They are a qualified end user so it can go directly to them,” Grimm said.

The other site is at 321 S. Cherry St., also in Bryan. The Land Bank has to first do an asbestos report so the house can be demolished. Both properties were fire damaged.

The Land Bank has 22 other properties that will either be turned over instead of proceeding with a tax foreclosure – as long as the deeds are clean or acquired through a tax foreclosure, Grimm said. The agency is falling far short of the 10 sites it was supposed to have by the May deadline. Grimm has spoken to state officials about the county’s situation.

“We just feel that deadline is a little unrealistic,” Grimm said. “After hearing what we had to say, they do understand that. Even if we don’t meet the 10 by May, I am confident that we will reach 20 by November.”

The state gave the Land Bank funds to demolish each house, so even if some of the money is taken away, Grimm said she is confident the agency will get it back.

The agency had $125,000 for the first five houses, and the Williams Street property only cost $11,000 to demolish.

“So we don’t need the full $25,000 for every property,” Grimm said. “We are still in good standing. We are going to be able to get done what we want to get done.”

The Land Bank has researched homes that may qualify for the program. Grimm has driven by each one and added them to the list. There are six selected areas where the remaining homes are located.

The county’s major population centers are on the list including Nettle Lake, but not Edgerton. The village only had one home that qualified so the Land Bank couldn’t include it, Grimm said. These were the areas that appeared to have the most homes that were abandoned or blighted, she said.

The research showed no tax payments on these properties in five to six years.

“We are going to get anywhere that we can,” Grimm said. “This is our starting point. I don’t want them to think that we are ignoring them.”

Abandoned may mean someone died and the inheritor want nothing to do with the house or lacks the means, Grimm said. So the county is going after those people first, she said. A letter is sent to the owners offering a way out of having to pay the back taxes for people so inclined. If the taxes are brought up to current, so much the better.

“Some are like zombie properties, where the bank has started foreclosure at the house and then they never finished it,” Grimm said. “I get multiple calls every tax time (with people) saying ‘I don’t own this property or the bank owns it. It doesn’t matter, if the property is in your name, I have to send the tax bills to you.”

One thing to keep mind is Williams County is a lot smaller than the larger counties the state has been dealing with. Those counties are dealing with clusters of homes in a neighborhood, where as Williams is hunting a different animal.

“They probably have maybe 10 on a block,” Grimm said. “We don’t have 10 on any block. They have to look at our smaller counties a little differently.”

She told the state it can try to keep the Land Bank to the target areas, but that will be difficult in county of 37,000 people compared to a neighborhood of the same number of residents. It could be the state didn’t know the whole process for smaller counties to acquire a home, Grimm said.

Keeping Williams County to same rules as a larger county will result in more exceptions here, Grimm said. That includes not being to afford a full-time director, she said.

The program is being run out of the treasurer’s office with Maumee Valley Planning Organization, the board and the prosecutor pitching in to help Grimm.

“Believe me I could not do it without our prosecutor’s office or Maumee Valley,” Grimm said. “Because they bring a tremendous amount of help and knowledge. We are all working together.”

That means instead of having one person dedicated to doing the research and going through each step, Grimm collaborates with a couple other departments. That doesn’t mean the Land Bank is stalled, she said. “We are hoping to have five or six by May 18,” Grimm said. “We have a couple deeds in lieu of foreclosure.”

Whatever the case is for a home to be abandoned or blighted, Grimm is willing to work with anyone to get the liens or deed cleaned up to transfer ownership to the Land Bank. The goal of the program remains to demolish the blighted houses and get the properties into the hands of someone who can either rehabilitate the structure or build new and get it back on the tax rolls.

“We are working with them to get these properties back into taxpaying status,” Grimm said.  “That is our goal.”

Some homes could be sold at a sheriff’s auction and Grimm would be happy with that outcome because the county recoups the back taxes. The home will be put back into productive use, she said.

“People who don’t want some of these houses or they are far beyond repair, that’s what this program is for,” Grimm said.

© 2017, James Pruitt. All rights reserved.


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