Kim Hupp and Rick Hindel have watched with disdain the crumbling, derelict homes dotting their Newark street for more than a decade.
Some sat empty for years, with shingles missing and once-vibrant paint chipped away. Others attracted squatters, drug activity and other crime.
Last week, though, the Lawrence Street residents looked on with delight as an excavator ripped into one of those eyesores, leveling a run-down, two-story home and leaving a clean, empty lot in its place.
“I’m thrilled about it,” Hupp said once the lot was cleared.
It was the first of 13 homes the Licking County Land Reutilization Corporation, a land bank, is demolishing in Newark, Pataskala and Buckeye Lake the next two weeks.
Since its establishment nearly two years ago, the Licking County land bank has been acquiring abandoned, tax-delinquent properties with a mission to return them to productive use and the tax rolls.
The land bank has obtained dozens of properties throughout the county since then. Sometimes they’re empty lots; other times they’re parcels with neglected structures that the land bank then tears down. The land bank has about 60 properties in its name, and a handful already transferred to new owners.
And buildings will continue to fall across the county. Thanks to a recently awarded $1.4 million grant through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, the land bank plans to acquire and repurpose another 60 properties through 2019.
Land banks were established in Ohio in 2008, when the legislature passed a bill allowing Cuyahoga County, hit hard by the housing crisis, to create one. Later legislation allowed for all Ohio counties to establish land banks, and nearly half of Ohio’s 88 counties have done so since then, including Franklin, Fairfield, Licking and Union.
Most properties the Licking County land bank acquires are on the forfeited land list, meaning they’re in foreclosure and have gone to a sheriff’s sale twice, with no bids, said Licking County Treasurer Olivia Parkinson, who leads the land bank.
“These are some pretty rough properties that we’re talking about,” Parkinson said.
“That one was full of trash inside; garbage, animals,” Rick Hindel said of the now-razed home near his on Lawrence Street. “We’re glad to see them tear it down. We were tired of looking at it.”
Once it acquires a property, the land bank may offer a lot for a set price of $250 to neighbors who own adjacent property, as long as they are current on their taxes. The land bank also can sell a property, or turn it over to a church, school or other public entity.
The city of Newark has already expressed interest in land bank property on Buena Vista Street, where a structure was torn down Wednesday, said Licking County Deputy Auditor Greg Ketter, in part because the lot is near a city-owned cemetery.
Acquiring and repurposing these properties not only returns them to the tax rolls, but it can help lift a community and those who live there.
“(Neighbors are) glad there’s an avenue or an entity that is able to resolve this problem for the neighborhood,” Ketter said.