Rick Armon
and Kathy Antoniotti

Summit County has identified 4,870 vacant and abandoned residential properties throughout the county — with more than 70 percent in Akron.

Community leaders launched an effort this year to pinpoint the properties as the county creates a land bank to deal with blight. County leaders had predicted there would be 3,000 to 3,500.

“It’s a little bit higher than I thought, but it’s still in the ballpark,” said Jason Dodson, chief of staff for County Executive Russ Pry.

Communities throughout the country have struggled to deal with the number of vacant and abandoned properties that ballooned during the foreclosure crisis and recession.

The problem here isn’t as bad as elsewhere in the state, officials said. For example, the similar-sized Montgomery County has about 14,000.

“Akron and Summit County are relatively well off [by comparison],” said Jim Rokakis, director of the Thriving Communities Institute and a former Cuyahoga County treasurer.

Akron leads the county with 3,523 vacant and abandoned properties. Springfield Township and Barberton are second and third with 542 and 155, respectively.

The Pry administration presented the survey results to County Council this week.

Councilwoman Ilene Shapiro said she was surprised to see so many in Springfield. She had thought Barberton would be second.

As part of its analysis, the county also identified 15,039 properties that have been certified as tax delinquent and another 2,041 that have been foreclosed upon. That means nearly 1 in 10 properties countywide is considered in financial distress.

The overall number might grow. The county has yet to hear from eight communities: Boston Heights, Boston Township, Macedonia, Munroe Falls, Northfield, Peninsula, Richfield and Richfield Township.

County leaders are disappointed those cities, villages and townships haven’t responded to the survey because the new land bank, also known as the Summit County Land Reutilization Corp., will use the data to help steer money to communities to combat the problem.

Land bank seeks money

Land banks are public authorities that take ownership of tax-foreclosed properties. The groups can raze blighted structures, fix up others to resell or hang onto them for future development. The goal is to rid areas of abandoned eyesores that harm housing values and communities.

The land bank board, which will hold its first meeting today,is applying for $3.78 million from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Moving Ohio Forward Demolition Grant Program.

Sixteen communities already have pledged money to obtain matching grants and double their investment to raze blighted homes. They include Akron ($800,000), Barberton ($430,000), Springfield ($100,000), Copley Township ($50,000), Twinsburg Township ($50,000) and Norton ($50,000).

The county will have other cash to hand out through the program and the ongoing land bank effort.

Lakemore, which is under state-ordered fiscal emergency status, doesn’t have the money to obtain a matching grant. But the small village of about 3,000 residents still will receive a significant amount of funding because of the extent of its housing problem, said Connie Krauss, county director of community and economic development.

Lakemore tackles problem

Ninety-seven homes in Lakemore are vacant and abandoned — about 10 percent of its housing stock.

“Right now, we are identifying a list of all tax-delinquent and abandoned properties owners and trying to put our strategy together,” village Fiscal Officer Rick Quay said.

Once the funds are awarded, the village will send letters to the owners, requesting their cooperation.

“Our first step will be to request owners to allow us to tear the building down at no cost to the property owner,” Quay said.

Once the buildings are razed, owners still would be responsible for any taxes owed on the property, he said.

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.