Jim's corner

Thoughts from our director

Vacant properties reduce property values in our neighborhoods.  Studies show that one vacant property on a street will significantly reduce the value of adjacent homes.  Several vacant and abandoned structures can bring down values in an entire neighborhood.  Careful planning, selective demolition and appropriate rehab can save neighborhoods.  Green space can be created where boarded-up houses previously stood.  A “Clean and Green” approach can save our neighborhoods and our cities.




Vacancy is Toxic

Vacant properties act like infectious and deadly agents in our communities.

Consider this: One vacant house on a block destroys the value of nearby homes. Soon, due to loss of value, foreclosures and bank walk-aways, the nearby homes become vacant as the disease spreads. Soon the entire neighborhood is dead and diseased, having been destroyed by this contagious and toxic process. Then the adjacent areas are infected and the disease spreads further … predictably, relentlessly, and with devastating consequences.


Our role in urban revitalization

In March 2011, Western Reserve Land Conservancy launched a region-wide effort to help revitalize our urban centers. We named the effort Thriving Communities Institute because of all the connotations the word thriving holds for urban centers: flourishing, prospering, blossoming and successful. Our cities have thrived in the past; and we believe they will thrive again. They will move from vacancy to vitality.


Thriving Communities Institute, led by director Jim Rokakis, is already lending its hand to transform vacant and unproductive properties into new opportunities to attract economic growth, to bring green space to our cities, and to support safe, beautiful neighborhoods. In working with community leaders in our region, we have learned that urban revitalization is a process, one with many steps supported by great partnerships. Thriving Communities is helping secure our cities’ vacant, unhealthy properties by establishing and supporting county land banks throughout our region.


We are convinced that this tool is an essential element in stabilizing our fragile cities. County land banks, technically called county land reutilization corporations, provide our counties with much-needed ability to quickly acquire foreclosed and vacant property. These land banks can safely hold a distressed property, clean its title, and prepare it for a better day. The goal is to secure vacant properties – which would otherwise attract crime, lower neighboring home values, and incur public services costs – so that they can be put to better use in the future.


Supporting the creation and networking of county land banks is a primary focus for Thriving Communities. And we are uniquely qualified to deliver this support. Jim Rokakis served as Cuyahoga County Treasurer for 14 years and became nationally known for his work on urban housing and land issues. Rokakis was instrumental in creating the legislation that enabled this new type of land bank in Ohio and he founded the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corp, the first county land bank in the state.


“An important key to our region's health is its land and how we use it – and reuse it,” Rokakis says. “In three years of existence, the Cuyahoga County land bank has demonstrated its value as the most effective and comprehensive program in the country to deal with vacant properties. One of Thriving Communities' top priorities is to facilitate the creation of more county land banks across the region.”


Click here to learn more about the Thriving Communities' work.






Watch Jim Rokakis on '60 Minutes'





Listen to the Ohio News Network report on demolition funding.

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