EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part III of a three-part series within the "Rising from Rust" project looking at how the Richland County Land Bank and other Ohio-based land banks address blight.
MANSFIELD – No two land banks are alike, but Ohio’s more than 50 land banks do face similar challenges and can learn from one another.
Montgomery County’s efforts to grow urban forests in Dayton and the surrounding areas could be replicated anywhere by engaging the community.
Trumbull County’s unique attitude towards new ideas could benefit any land bank.
And by sharing ideas, these separate entities can better achieve their common goal: to mitigate blight and make their counties more beautiful.
The Beginning of a Land Bank Association
As more and more land banks have formed in Ohio, they’ve consistently shared ideas through informal networking meetups organized by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, but now the 52 land banks are considering starting their own Land Bank Association.
“It’s something that many of us feel makes sense at this stage,” said David Mann of the Lucas County Land Bank.
He explained that more than 60 percent of Ohio’s counties have land banks. The only state with a comparable number of land banks is Michigan, which has already formed a Land Bank Association.
Mann and Shawn Carvin of the Trumbull County Land Bank, addressed fellow land banks about the potential at a quarterly, informal networking meeting on May 30 meeting in Richland County.
Both expressed gratitude for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy’s efforts to connect land banks regularly, but Mann believes it would be "complacent” to think the organization will forever organize such meetings.
The land bank association could be up and running as soon as fall 2018.
So far, Ohio land banks have met quarterly in Richland County via networking meetings organized by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy
“Basically, it’s an opportunity for the land banks to share questions, share ideas,” said Robin Thomas, land bank program director with Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “I think the thing people come for is the chance to talk to other land banks.”
The meeting generally features three or four presentations relevant to all land banks. However, the May meeting was the first to include an hour for project presentations. Three Ohio Land Banks pitched their project ideas – some further along than others – and asked for feedback.
“It’s about coming up with a couple ideas of what they can do,” Thomas said. “The others may see some of the problems that land banks are having.”
The presentations started off with a short introduction from the speaker. But more time was spent in a large group conversation with people from the crowd bouncing ideas off one another, as they explained how they had previously encountered similar obstacles as in the project described.
Allison Goebel, of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, studies Ohio cities’ revitalization efforts. She applauded the state’s land banks for meeting informally until now, but she sees the need for a land bank association.
“The meetings have informally served that role, but as more and more land banks come on … having a framework to get the input that creates that shared voice, assistance and learning opportunities, I think it’s a great idea,” she said.
The Michigan Land Bank Association
Michigan is a few steps ahead of Ohio when it comes to land banks.
The state’s first land bank formed in 2005. Its land bank association started in 2008, according to Eric Schertzing, Ingham County treasurer since 2001 and the president of the Michigan Land bank Association for its first five years.
“That first rush had like five land banks, and then we grew from there,” Schertzing said. “When you get more members you want to come together more formally.”
In his experience, even before the land bank association formed, the greatest challenge has been time.
“Treasurers keep busy, and land banks are an additional major responsibility,” he said.
He likened organizing the first several meetings to “herding cats.”
“I just had to get people to one more meeting that they didn’t have time for,” Schertzing said.
Communities saw the need for land banks at that time, as the economy took a dive. Federal funding flooded land banks, allowing them to make progress in their communities despite the declining economy.
But it wasn’t until later that the value of the Land Bank Association became clear to its members.
“Post the flush of federal money, we had a lot of land banks that had done a lot of stuff and couldn’t get anything else done,” he said. “We pulled together recognizing a need to make the necessary work of the land bank to happen in good times and bad.”
Since then, Schertzing has stepped away from managing the Land Bank Association, but he still believe in its purpose and believes Ohio's efforts to start its own land bank will be worthwhile.
To read other stories in this series, visit richlandsource.com/risingfromrust.