December 18, 2014

Elyria
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$3.2 million spent demolishing ruined homes, Elyria seeking more grant money

A condemned building sits at 315 E. Broad St. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

A condemned building sits at 315 E. Broad St. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

ELYRIA — The rush to raze dilapidated properties in Lorain County has resulted in the Lorain County Land Bank demolishing 178 properties and exhausting nearly all of the $3.2 million obtained through a state settlement with banks over improper foreclosure lawsuits.

Now, as the county agency gears up to fight for more money to fund more demolitions, city officials who have gone though the process of identifying homes they would like to see demolished are wondering how long the wait will be.

“Things are sort of on hold right now,” Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda said. “The land bank spent their allocation and are conducting some sort of assessment right now. In the meantime, we want to find a way to work with them and take advantage of any continuation of the program. There can be nothing worse for the city of Elyria than we doing our due diligence, and we still have a lot of boarded-up homes in the city.”

To say the land bank is out of money is an oversimplified way of stating where the agency is at, County Economic Development Coordinator Pat Metzger said.

“We originally estimated the land bank would be able to handle about 160 demolitions and, at 178 properties, nearly the entire amount has been encumbered,” he said. “That includes all the homes that have been demolished, are in the process of demolition and some funds set aside for emergency demolitions in the future.”

Metzger said the land bank is working on a plan to maintain the properties, including lawn care, as well as determining what can be done to bring them back to productive use. The latter will be a little harder to accomplish as most parcels have liens placed on them equivalent to the cost of the demolition. The homes are also still either bank-owned or in the name of the last known owner.

A condemned building sits at 809 E. River St.

A condemned building sits at 809 E. River St.

“Residents, likewise, have so many questions about what will happen to these vacant lots next to their homes,” Elyria Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said. “They want to know if they can be purchased or if they can use them.”

Brinda said without a seat on the land bank’s board, Elyria doesn’t have a say in how such regulations will be structured. But that doesn’t mean Elyria will stop trying to rid the community of blight.

“This doesn’t stall me from going after properties,” said Kevin Brubaker, an official in the city’s Building Department. “I haven’t had a county property taken down since the end of July or beginning of August. But until I am told, ‘Don’t send me any more,’ I am going to continue to send homes over there so they are waiting when they start the demolitions up again. We are not slowing down.”

Metzger said it could be about 90 more days before the land bank knows where it will go next in terms of funding.

“We’re not out of money but are moving into different phases of money,” he said. “What I’m hoping is those homes will be processed through this new round of money.”

Two options seem to be available for possible future funding — more money from the attorney general’s office in the form of unallocated funds and funds other land banks did not use and a portion of $60 million from the state’s Hardest Hit Fund that the Ohio Housing Financing Agency is working to unlock. The latter option is heavily support by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

A condemned building sots at 1015 Middle Ave.

A condemned building sits at 1015 Middle Ave.

The Hardest Hit Fund is a product of the Obama administration, which sought to help homeowners in danger of foreclosure. At last count, Ohio had $374 million still left in its $570 million allocation.

In the meantime, Metzger said cities should not stop identifying blight in their communities.

“Lorain and Elyria both have a substantial list of homes they have identified that probably totals hundreds,” he said. “It lets us know we want them to keep identifying houses because we have a lot of work to do.”

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