Government, Nonprofits, and Real Estate

GR Community Foundation supports land bank

Officials provide funding to support purchase of tax-foreclosed properties.

June 21, 2013
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The Grand Rapids Community Foundation stepped up its financial commitment last week to the Kent County Land Bank Authority by providing the organization with a program-related investment totaling $600,000.

A program-related investment is a low interest loan, and GRCF is making that money available to KCLBA from its endowment fund. Foundation officials are attempting to help the land bank purchase 163 tax-foreclosed properties in the city of Grand Rapids for $1.182 million.

A year ago, GRCF offered the land bank a PRI worth $400,000. Those funds were used to buy 44 tax-foreclosed properties from Kent County, a transaction that cost KCLBA $422,000.

“The land bank was able to acquire 44 properties; some were rehabbed and others were sold to investors of private homeowners. Through its work, the land bank was able to recoup the Community Foundation’s investment and reinvest in additional properties,” said Marcia Rapp, GRCF vice president of programs, in a statement.

“We’re pleased with what the land bank has done with the assets we’ve made available. Neighborhoods in Grand Rapids are better because of the land bank,” she added.

Not everyone was pleased with that sale. A group of residential realtors and property managers sued the county, the Treasurer’s office and the land bank last fall. The Kent County Taxpayers Association also targeted the 13 commissioners who supported the sale for defeat in last November’s election. The sale was made before the public auction was held. The case was dismissed in December and has since has been appealed. Most of the 13 commissioners won another two-year term. 

This year the county commission decided not to sell properties to the land bank and recommended the organization work with municipalities on tax-foreclosed properties. KCTA recently took partial credit for the outcome of the county commission’s decision in March by saying it applied pressure to board members to make the policy change.

“We are aware that there are people who believe that efforts of the land bank present an unfair advantage for acquiring properties and that it reduces tax revenue,” said Rapp. “However, we have found that local municipalities welcome the land bank to acquire foreclosed properties, as they invest in renovations before selling the properties to tax-paying owners. The result is improved neighborhoods and upwards of $5 million of positive impact.” 

The KCLBA board meets Wednesday to decide on whether to enter into a purchase and development agreement with Grand Rapids. If the board approves the contract, the land bank will have to make the properties’ payment by July 19. Even though the land bank would be buying the parcels from the city, the payment will go to the county treasurer’s office as it has already made the city whole on its lost tax revenue. 

In addition to the land bank, GRCF last week awarded: a $41,500 grant to the Friends of Grand Rapids Parks to buy three acres adjacent to the Fourth Street Woods Park; a $400,000 grant to Grand Rapids Public Schools to support post-secondary learning for students at Harrison Park and Westwood Middle schools; and a $40,000 grant to the Women’s Resource Center to enhance its programs with more diverse volunteers. 

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