August 30, 2014

Elyria
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Ownership questions hinder Elyria’s demolition efforts

ELYRIA — Excavators have been working overtime in Elyria taking down condemned and dilapidated homes at a record pace, but the work — a marked improvement from prior years — has not solved all of the city’s housing woes.

Since Jan. 10, 19 residential properties have been razed and another 57 properties are set to be demolished. Building Department official Kevin Brubaker said if all goes well, those homes should be down by May 1.

Yet, with 85 percent being foreclosed properties that neither the mortgage-issuing banks nor original homeowners wanted, the city has been left in an odd predicament. Without the city procuring full ownership rights of the cleared parcels, creating a redevelopment plan will not be easy, said Mayor Holly Brinda.

“Yes, we no longer have the danger of the physical home creating a hazard in the community or being a haven for drugs, but we are in a place where we have to ask who is going to maintain the property or we need a way to return the property back to a productive use,” Brinda said. “This way is not good because the original owner’s neglect is the reason why we had to move in and demolition the property in the first place.”

Brubaker said the city is using two funding sources to raze homes — the county land bank and the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The majority are being brought down through the county land bank, which operates under state laws that say ownership goes back to the original owner and a lien is placed on the property.

Law Director Scott Serazin said it was set up that way so the city does not become a land holder of numerous properties around the county.

“You have to understand the land bank is in the first phase of its work,” Serazin said. “They just want to get the homes down. A lot of land banks eventually make rules that allow the land bank to buy the properties straight from foreclosure, clear the title and have the ownership transferred.”

City Council members were not aware of the problem. Garry Gibbs, R-3rd Ward, said he hoped the properties will go to adjacent property owners who are more inclined to keep the properties up.

But without full ownership, the city can’t do that, Brubaker said.

“I get calls all the time even from people who want to buy the property as soon as they see the condemned sign, but if we don’t own it we can’t sell it,” he said.

Brinda said the land bank, which is a relatively new entity operating on the county level, is still working out operating details. She hopes future changes will deal with the ownership issue, but she stopped short of saying the city should retain full ownership.

“That would even come at a cost to us when you are talking about maintaining dozens of properties,” she said.

Brinda also said the land bank is not set up to demolish commercial properties, and cities like Elyria have to find their own money for such properties. In the coming weeks, the old ice house on West Avenue will come down, but the city is footing the bill for the demolition.

Still, Brubaker said the ripple effect of demolishing homes so quickly is being felt in the neighborhoods.

“There is a joke in the Building Department that whenever people see a city car, people bring their kids inside and lock their doors because they think we are there to tear their homes down,” he said. “But I can say what we are doing is also working in another direction. I have gone out to seven homes and once they found out how serious we were, they start to rehab their own homes. We are working with those people as they bring their properties up to code.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.