Land bank working all over the county

May 6, 2012
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In its short existence, the Kent County Land Bank Authority has been able to conquer a presumption held by some individuals even before the agency turned on the lights.

“I think when this was first formed, people thought we’d be Grand Rapids-centric or city-centric. But we are getting out in the entire county,” said County Treasurer Kenneth Parrish, who also chairs the land bank authority.

“With the Kent County Land Bank, our focus is the whole county. A lot of this is being driven by the townships, and they have welcomed it,” said County Commissioner Stan Ponstein, who sits on the land bank board.

To that point, Land Bank Executive Director Dave Allen said he is looking forward to meeting with the Kent County Supervisors Association, a coalition of the county’s 21 township supervisors, at its next meeting.

Allen also outlined a couple of projects the bank is working on with the townships. One is in Algoma Township at a development called Cedar Rock on 14th Avenue.

Cedar Rock, which has developed infrastructure and utilities, has eight parcels, but only one has been built on. Three others have been foreclosed on because of back taxes and were to be auctioned at the bargain rates of $6,000, $5,000 and $5,000. The parcels appraised value is $100,000, $90,000 and $90,000. One of the properties is a corner lot, just off 14th Avenue’s commercial corridor, and it carries the higher value.

Allen said he met with Algoma Township officials and got them to remove the parcels from auction. The township then agreed to enter into a partnership with the land bank to sell the three for about $25,000 each. Allen said the idea is to find companies to buy the parcels at the greatly reduced price. A sale would only close if the company has a plan to use the parcel in a way that would bring jobs to the site. The township is interested because it invested in Cedar Rock.

Besides Algoma Township, Allen said he is working with Oakfield and Spencer townships on putting tax-foreclosed properties to use that could lead to more economic development projects. Allen also said he is collaborating with Grandville officials on an effort to find a buyer for a tax-foreclosed gas station that he felt would be a good location for a small restaurant.

Allen also has his sights set on a house at 737 Madison SE in Grand Rapids. He said the house is interesting because it sits at the entrance to the Heritage Hill neighborhood, an area of historic homes not far from downtown. The house is also interesting because it’s in very good shape, has a value of around $100,000, and has been foreclosed on due to delinquent taxes.

But what makes the house most interesting to him is that the land bank could buy it at auction for $239, the amount owed in back taxes. Allen said the authority could invest $50,000 into the house, make about $30,000 from the sale and then put that profit into other projects.

He said rehabilitation work is underway on two homes on Stafford SW, and he wants to get another project going soon on a house at 855 Gibson SE. All are in Grand Rapids. He said the Gibson house needs about $35,000 worth of materials to bring it up to speed. He wants to work with a nonprofit developer or an educational program, like the ones at Grand Rapids Public Schools or Kent Skills Center, on the construction end.

“We’re going to slowly renovate it over time,” he said.

Allen will appear before county commissioners at their next board meeting to talk about the land bank and to let them know about the tax-foreclosed properties in their respective districts. The list has been put together, and Commissioner Dick Bulkowski’s west side Grand Rapids district has the distinction of being home to the most foreclosed properties in the 19 districts this year.

Parrish, whose office handles the tax-foreclosures in the county, said this year 3,500 properties went into forfeiture, a 13-month prelude to foreclosure. But he added that roughly 90 percent of the property owners caught up on the delinquent taxes to avoid foreclosure.

Allen said 197 of the approximate 350 tax-foreclosed properties were owned by investors. He said he plans to visit every one of those investor-owned homes to determine how many are occupied, in an effort to keep renters who are up-to-date on their rent from being evicted. He explained that investors will buy properties at the county auction, collect the rents, not pay the taxes and then let the houses go into foreclosure again. “We have to stop that,” he said.

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