Trailer issues frustrate land bank

Published 1:59 pm Friday, March 3, 2017

Rules prohibit use of funds for manufactured home demo

Representatives of the Lawrence County Land Bank and other county officials met with Jim Rokakis, Vice President of Western Reserve Land Conservancy and “Godfather of Ohio Land Banks”, on Wednesday morning.

Rokakis provided information and feedback on Lawrence County’s plans and progress with their fledgling land bank, including information on newly proposed legislation that would makes funds available to allow commercial properties to be included in the land bank acquisitions and working to get Congress to overturn rules that currently restrict the use of land bank funds for the demolition of structures defined as manufactured homes.

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The new rules for commercial properties, Rokakis explained, would make up to $50 million available for the acquisition and demolition of industrial and commercial properties

“We certainly appreciate the money we’ve been able to gain from Washington through the hardest hit funds,” Rokakis said. “It was $80 million back in 2013 and another $192 million in this most recent round.”

But those funds were only for residential properties.

“What we’re finding around Ohio,” Rokakis continued, “and I’ve got this request from 43 land banks, is ‘We appreciate the help on the residential, but man we’ve got a problem (on the commercial side).’ Like in Warren with an abandoned hospital, or Lorraine, Ohio with an abandoned hospital. Abandoned factories everywhere, abandoned commercial buildings, old shopping centers. You could run down the list of everything that was Ohio. What was is not going to be anymore, so you need to get it down.”

This isn’t a problem unique to Lawrence County, or even southern Ohio.

“It’s true of every community I’ve visited. It’s the same story. We appreciate the residential. We need money for commercial/industrial.”

A problem that is unique to the more rural areas of the state, and so doesn’t often get a lot of attention in Columbus or D.C., is the issue of trailers or mobile homes.
Currently rules prohibit using land bank funds to demolish any structure described as a mobile or manufactured home. The premise is that if it is a mobile home, the structure can be moved off the property.

However this ignores the fact, Lawrence County Treasurer and land bank administrator Stephen Burcham explained, that many mobile homes are unmovable once they are attached to a permanent foundation or have additions built onto them. By that point, he said, they are as permanent as any other built structure.

“If I tried to move some of these, they’d come apart,” Burcham said.

Up to 30 percent of the homes in Lawrence County fall under that definition of mobile home, according to the land bank’s Tom Snyder, who has butted heads with representatives in Columbus over the rule.

Burcham added that approximately 25 percent of the properties identified for cleanup were manufactured or mobile homes, and that tax delinquent properties with mobile homes amounted to over $1 million annually in unpaid taxes for the county.

Rokakis urged the land bank and county commissioners to get on the phone with Rob Portman and urge him to help get these restrictive rules on mobile homes reversed.

Rokakis also talked with the land bank about options other than demolition of blighted properties, such as extending tax credits to businesses that could rehab any newly added commercial properties into low income housing,