The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance to create the Cook County Land Bank Authority today, making it the most populous county in the United States to establish the innovative planning tool.
The Land Bank Authority is being created as an agency of the County so it can help return vacant and abandoned properties to productive use. It will promote the re-use and redevelopment of vacant, foreclosed and tax delinquent parcels in Cook County and work collaboratively with targeted municipalities to decide which properties to acquire and how they should be restored.
“I’ve been to every corner of Cook County, and I’ve seen first-hand how municipalities struggle to return vacant properties to their tax rolls,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “This landmark ordinance will help the County combat the foreclosure crisis that has decimated communities. We are going to work hand-in-hand with communities throughout the County to ensure the Land Bank Authority is effective and sustainable.”
Across the country, land banks have proven to be an effective tool to address the challenges surrounding vacancy, reverse the downward cycle of decline and decay, facilitate the transfer of property, and promote economic development and neighborhood stabilization. More than 80 local governments in 23 states have created land banks to turn vacant land from a liability into an asset.
“The land bank will provide another tool to strategically bring vacant buildings into productive use in cities and towns throughout Cook County,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who will appoint a representative to the Land Bank Authority’s board of directors.
A 13-member board will oversee the Land Bank Authority. It will be comprised of individuals from a variety of fields, including banking, real estate and development, to ensure the land bank can be nimble in responding to market demands. Critical to the success of the land bank will be its ability to hold property on a tax exempt basis to keep down costs and extinguish back taxes and clear title.
“Foreclosure doesn’t just affect the one vacant home. It is a ripple effect that impacts the neighbors on the block, the businesses in the community and ultimately undermines the tax base of the County,” said Commissioner Bridget Gainer (D-10th). “It’s time to bring a market-facing, comprehensive approach and the Land Bank will do that.”
In the coming weeks, President Preckwinkle will appoint members to the board so it can begin the process of hiring staff, establishing policies, procedures and programs to support its operations.
“Cook County has taken a thoughtful approach to advancing a Land Bank Authority with enormous potential to help the region address the vast and growing number of vacant and abandoned properties,” said MarySue Barrett, president of the Metropolitan Planning Council. “The proposed Land Bank Authority is an innovative, yet pragmatic strategy that will remove redevelopment barriers, making it easier for municipalities and the private market to move ahead with development plans and jumpstart the economy.”
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) sponsored a Technical Assistance Panel in October that concluded a land bank was a key tool needed by municipalities and developers, according to said Cindy McSherry, Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute-Chicago.
“ULI applauds President Preckwinkle and the Cook County Board for moving so quickly to establish this much-needed mechanism to fight foreclosure and promote reinvestment in our communities,” McSherry said.