Homeport Partner Profile: Franklin County Land Bank

A majority of the 33 lease to buy homes recently built by Homeport in Milo-Grogan are on lots sold to it by the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (Franklin County Land Bank), including this property on Peters Avenue.

A majority of the 33 lease to buy homes recently built by Homeport in Milo-Grogan are on lots sold to it by the Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (Franklin County Land Bank), including this property on Peters Avenue.

Editor’s note: Homeport is the largest locally-based developer of affordable housing in Central Ohio. High quality partnerships are critical to providing stability and opportunity to our more than 6,200 residents. COCIC - Franklin County Land Bank is the seventh in our partner profile series.

HOMEPORT: Can you tell us about Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation (COCIC), its history and mission?

COCIC: Originally formed as a CIC in 2005, COCIC has operated as the Franklin County Land Bank since 2012. We renovated and relocated to the old Parsons Avenue Library building (845 Parsons Ave) in January 2017 where we share office space with the City of Columbus Land Redevelopment Division (“Columbus Land Bank”).

The mission of COCIC is to acquire properties in order to improve the quality of neighborhoods, increase property values and return unproductive properties to contributing, tax-paying status, and create diverse housing and business opportunities by leveraging resources to promote and facilitate the reclamation, rehabilitation and re-utilization of vacant, abandoned, tax-foreclosed, or other real property in the County.

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COCIC works with many local partners to address issues related to blight, vacancy, delinquent property taxes, underutilized properties, and area disinvestment. One of COCIC’s first projects was to administer more than $8 million in residential demolition funds awarded to Franklin County under the Ohio Attorney General’s Moving Ohio Forward (MOF) program. Then, in 2013, COCIC/Franklin County was awarded $23 million through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP) to continue demolishing blighted residential units. Across all programs, COCIC has demolished more than 3,200 blighted units (1,500+ structures) since 2012.

Our programs have evolved over the years from an initial focus on demolition to a more diverse array of programs today geared towards commercial and residential property renovation, land assembly, property transactions, affordable housing, and stabilization of historic and commercial structures, in addition to continued demolition efforts. Most recently, COCIC has begun leveraging funds provided by Ohio Development Service Agency’s Abandoned Gas Station Program to re-mediate abandoned gas station sites for redevelopment.

COCIC has grown from two staff members in 2012 to a team of seven today. A few projects and programs COCIC is especially proud of include:

  • Demolition of several large, blighted, and dangerous properties including the dilapidated Knights Inn Motel in Westerville (paving the way for new construction of an Aloft Hotel on the property), Poindexter Tower on the East Side, an abandoned apartment complex in the City of Whitehall, and a burned-out shopping strip across the street from the new Columbus Africentric High School.

  • Demolition of 700+ blighted apartment units at the former Metro West site near Hollywood Casino, and redevelopment of portions of the property for affordable housing, a new grocery store and shopping center, and a public park.

  • Stabilization of the historic Franklin Park Medical Center building on Long Street including interior and exterior clean up, a new roof, full interior gut, new exterior paint, and structural improvements to create a marketable shell for build out.

  • Investment of more than $3.6 million in Trusted Partner Program grants to leverage over $10 million with our non-profit housing partners over the past four years to support the renovation of 63 properties and new construction of 65 homes in neighborhoods across Franklin County.

HOMEPORT: How does COCIC choose whom to sell land and blighted homes it has acquired and, in some instances, cleared?

COCIC - Franklin County Land Bank President/CEO Curtiss Williams, Sr.

COCIC - Franklin County Land Bank President/CEO Curtiss Williams, Sr.

COCIC: We work with its many local governmental, non-profit, and for-profit partners to find new uses for previously tax delinquent and/or blighted properties. Depending on the needs of each neighborhood, some vacant lots are sold by COCIC, with approval from the local jurisdiction, for new market-rate homes; others are reserved for affordable housing opportunities or sold to adjacent neighbors through the Side Yard program. Individuals and organizations interested in purchasing a land bank property must apply and meet eligibility requirements. Single-family and multi-family homes needing rehabilitation are also sold by COCIC – typically in coordination with the City of Columbus Land Redevelopment Division – to qualified individuals and organizations. Nearly 800 land bank properties have been successfully rehabbed through this program.

HOMEPORT: How does the Franklin County Land Bank view the need for affordable housing in Central Ohio? Why is it important?

COCIC: Along with many of our partner organizations, COCIC believes the lack of affordable housing opportunities in Central Ohio is a key issue that must be addressed from many angles as the Franklin County population continues to grow. COCIC will continue to contribute to affordable housing initiatives by focusing on the reuse and stabilization of existing affordable housing units and creating new housing stock for long term, permanent, affordable housing opportunities.

HOMEPORT: How does an organization like Homeport fit into the overall vision of the Land Bank?

COCIC: Land banks rely on partnerships to make change happen in each neighborhood. Each partner organization brings certain expertise and experience to the table to help develop healthy, mixed income, and inclusive communities. Homeport is one of COCIC’s most prominent non-profit partners. In fact, Homeport is one of only a handful of “Trusted Partners” that receives annual funding from COCIC for new home construction and renovation projects. We’re confident that COCIC grants are leveraged to the greatest degree on all Homeport development projects. COCIC selects its Trusted Partners very carefully based on expertise, proven experience, and accountability.

HOMEPORT: What does the Land Bank envision as its key characteristics, role and impact 10 years from now? In other words, what is the future of the organization? As part of that future do you anticipate COCIC creating a Land Trust like Cleveland and other major cities have?

COCIC: We expect to continue to serve as the Franklin County land bank for many years to come. We recognize that our role will continually change depending on current market conditions, population growth, and community needs. COCIC is committed to being flexible in our programming to address current issues, while at the same time working long-term for healthy and stable neighborhoods. As we wrap up several years of heavy demolition and post-recession blight remediation programming, we look forward to the future and are committed to being part of the affordable housing solution in Central Ohio.

COCIC is currently developing a subsidiary Community Land Trust organization that will immediately begin addressing the lack of affordable housing stock in neighborhoods that have seen a dramatic increase in value in recent years. The Community Land Trust will construct new, high-quality, single-family homes on land bank lots throughout Franklin County and the City of Columbus. With a 99-year land lease, the homeowner owns the home and the Community Land Trust retains ownership of the underlying land in perpetuity. A shared equity resale formula assures affordable housing for the first homebuyer and subsequent homebuyers who follow.