Learning About Land Banks
Alex and I are working with the law firm, Ancel Glink, on a project related to the Cook County and South Suburban Land banks. The housing clinic has worked with Ancel Glink on other projects associated with the Land Banks. This year, our task is to outline strategies that the Cook County and South Suburban Land Banks can utilize to acquire blighted properties in the Cook County and South Suburban communities. In order to formulate such strategies, our first step is going to be researching strategies that land banks in other counties from other states have used to acquire blighted properties. This will be an exciting project for both Alex and me because we are both interested in going into policy work. The second step of our project will be to vet the strategies we have learned from other states against Illinois law. In other words, we will be figuring out how to put forth strategies that would be applicable and feasible to accomplish in Illinois.
At their most basic level, land banks are either quasi-governmental, or governmental, agencies used to acquire, hold, redevelopment, or transfer several pieces of land acquired by public or private entities with the purpose of future development. Land banks have existed in various forms for a long time. Here in Cook County, land banks came into focus immediately following the housing bubble burst in 2008. For several related reasons, communities across Cook County soon realized there were an unfortunate amount of properties that were becoming, in effect, "zombie properties". Zombie properties refer to properties that in essence are existing on their own; perhaps its owner was underwater on the mortgage and simply left, or the owner hadn't paid property taxes and was at risk for eviction so they moved out. Zombie properties are simply not good for communities. Empty houses invite crime. Plus, while the municipal government has to spend taxpayer money for basic upkeep of the home, no one is paying taxes on the property, doubly impacting the taxpayer. Finally, with a flood of newly unoccupied homes, the housing market was oversaturated, driving property values into the ground. In Cook County, land banks were thus considered as an option to acquire these zombie properties and somehow repurpose the previously blighted land, making it productive again. In previous years, the clinic worked with Ancel Glink to establish the land banks in the area and determine how they could achieve this goal. This year, instead of looking in at the problem and determining the best measures to address the problems, we are looking outward, to see what other counties and communities have done.
The research we will be conducting on land banks will help us learn how to develop policies surrounding areas of affordable housing, urban planning, and land development. We will also develop a better understanding of the foreclosure process and property tax assessment procedures in Cook County and South Suburban. At the same time, this will be an opportunity for us to develop our reading and legal research skills as we will have more exposure to law reviews and legal news then we have had before. Learning how to strategically skim through extensive documents will be a challenging task that we both look forward too. We are looking forward to an educational and rewarding experience.