As most of the United States continues to grapple with a glut of foreclosed homes and shadow properties, some communities are banding together to do what they can to fight off as much of the resulting urban blight as possible. A handful of programs all over the country are finding creative ways to acquire foreclosed properties and convert them into useful homes for a variety of needy people. One example exists in Cleveland, where the International Services Center (ISC) has begun an initiative that will use foreclosed homes to provide housing for refugees from various countries.
Loren Berlin of the Huffington Post writes about the organization in a column published on April 19. As she puts it, “the Cleveland program is part of an emerging national effort that is seeking to find a silver lining in the foreclosure wave that has pockmarked communities with abandoned properties.”
Indeed, officials from Cleveland and Cuyahoga County got together with officials from several nonprofits back in 2006 when they started seeing the storm clouds of foreclosure on the horizon. They formed the Cuyahoga Land Bank as an independent, nonprofit government organization funded through penalties and interest on delinquent tax bills. In combination with a handful of other funding sources the Land Bank has been able to buy up hundreds of foreclosed homes in the greater Cleveland area, bring them up to specs, and get them back on the market.
When the ISC got wind of the Land Bank they figured the two organizations would make great partners. The Land Bank could retain ownership of the homes and act as landlords, while the ISC would have homes to place their refugees in as tenants. These refugees pay rent according to their financial circumstances while at the same time keeping the homes occupied and maintained. Though the program is still new, it’s already proven productive in the Cleveland area.
“Here are these people struggling to find this housing and behold, we have it,” said Cuyahoga Land Bank executive director Gus Frangos. “It’s logical. I’ve got to do something with these properties. I can’t hold them forever.”
A Workable Solution
By all accounts this program in Cleveland has been a great success, as have similar programs in other cities. What lies at the heart of their success is the lack of finger-pointing and name-calling in favor of actually getting something done. The Cuyahoga Land Bank is actually purchasing foreclosed homes for real money, then fixing them up and putting them to use. Sometimes these homes are sold; sometimes they’re used for programs like the ICS initiative. In either case, the bank loans on these homes are being satisfied and the return of the properties to the market is helping to stabilize real estate prices in Cleveland.
Typically when government gets involved in things like the foreclosure crisis they only tend to make things worse. However, this is one instance where reasonable minds have prevailed and something is actually being done that helps everyone involved. Here’s hoping the actions of the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the International Services Center catch on in other cities. Though they may not be able to solve the housing crisis on their own, every little bit that can be contributed adds up to go along way.