Land Bank attracts volunteers from multiple fields

June 8, 2012
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The Kent County Land Bank Authority has enlisted about two dozen volunteers who are helping direct its immediate future. Half of those individuals have already helped the organization find a few businesses that can provide professional services to the authority so the land bank can meet the county’s financial transparency requirements.

A dozen of the volunteers served on three committees that offered directions on issuing separate RFPs.

Six reviewed the land bank’s needs for residential and commercial real estate services, in which the selected firm will act as an agent for the organization.

“We’ve chosen people who have experience in real estate services,” said Dave Allen, land bank executive director.

Three volunteers reviewed the organization’s needs for accounting services, and whoever is chosen must understand real estate and governmental accounting.

“There is a complexity to being a buyer and a seller in the same transaction,” said Lee Nelson Webber, co-chair of the bank’s advisory council, which is assisting the board in taking the land bank forward.

Three other volunteers looked into the bank’s needs for legal services, which are most likely to revolve around contract and real estate law.

Allen said the land bank used a matrix system to score each RFP, and he was pleased with the quality and number of firms that responded. “The approval for the contracts will be brought to the board,” he said. The authority meets June 27.

Allen added that the land bank could add an RFP for a title company, but will wait on issuing that one because the real estate firm that is selected may have a connection with a title company.

Six other individuals will join Kenneth Parrish, county treasurer and land bank chairman, on a committee that will help the organization’s board decide if the Home Saver Program should be part of its mission. Some have questioned whether it should be. The program is designed to help homeowners who are close to being foreclosed on stay in their homes.

So far, the land bank has come to the rescue of a Grand Rapids woman who Allen said was the victim of a predatory loan. The organization has worked out a complex deal that involves two local lenders and the woman, who is expected to be able to remain in her house.

“The implications of the Home Saver Program are so intricate that we will need to talk to more bankers,” said Allen.

Seven more volunteers reviewed the county’s latest tax-foreclosure list, which contained roughly 350 properties, and suggested that the land bank should target 44 for redevelopment. Parrish will ask county commissioners to transfer those properties to the land bank before the public tax-foreclosure auction is held in August at DeVos Place.

Allen made it clear that none of the land bank’s volunteers are supposed to act as “yes” people. He said those serving on the Home Saver Program committee will meet every week for a few months, and if they recommend that the authority shouldn’t operate the program, it won’t.

“I’m impressed with all the individuals that are involved,” said County Commissioner Stan Ponstein, a land bank board member.

“I’m impressed with all the work they’re taking on,” added Sharon Brinks, Kentwood city commissioner and board member.

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