The Cook County Board of Commissioners continues to push for a county land bank that would acquire, manage and repurpose vacant and abandoned properties within the Chicago area.

There are about 85,000 foreclosure filings pending in the Circuit Court of Cook County, up from 15,000 ten years ago. About 90% of the filings end in default judgments, according to a the land bank proposal by commissioner Bridget Gainer. 

“Instead of each level of government layering demolition, rehab, rental or disposition programs on top of each other without leveraging the scale of the problem to the size of the market, a land bank can go directly to the core problems communities are facing; vacant and abandoned properties; depreciating home values and the need for comprehensive and sometimes sweeping planning for reuse,” Gainer said.

The purpose of the proposed draft ordinance is to create the Cook County land bank authority that will use resources available to facilitate the return of vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties. The development would hopefully lead to the stabilization of the housing and job market.

Ultimately, the land bank should develop a range of programs that would operate or participate in as a partner to willing owners of the properties. 

“A Cook County land bank is a critical step towards stemming the foreclosure crisis in our communities and protecting residents in a difficult economy,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

She added, “By returning vacant and abandoned property to productive use, we can eradicate blight in distressed neighborhoods, promote green and open spaces and improve property values for homeowners.  This is an important step towards strengthening our housing market, and one of my top priorities in the coming year.” 

However, the initial phase will focus on three programs, which would address neighborhood stabilization and establish a sustainable revenue source for the land bank including property maintenance, scattered-site single-family rental and demolition.

The initial property inventory will be primarily sourced from real-estate owned donations or otherwise conveyed by financial institutions, Federal Housing Finance Agency, servicers as well as city and counties excess public land inventory.

The Cook County land bank has an initial budget that projects revenues of about $5.39 million. 

Cook County is expected to hold title to all properties controlled by the land bank. Also, there are no third-party beneficiaries. 

General powers of the lank bank feature a long list of purposes and objectives including “to acquire, accept, or retain equitable interests, security interests, or other interest in any Real Property or other fixtures by loan agreement, note and mortgages.” 

The land bank may acquire properties through various ways including gift, bequest, transfer, exchange, foreclosure, purchase, purchase contracts, lease purchase agreements. 

“A Cook County Land Bank, designed to address vacant and abandoned buildings regionally will be the thread that connects similar County, State and Federal programs together,” Gainer said.

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