CATLIN — The Central Illinois Land Bank Authority (CILBA) is piloting strategy to save homes through proactive code enforcement.

More than two years ago, Catlin’s board member with the CILBA asked a simple question, “There’s a house that we think can be saved from demolition at 402 Webster St. – can you help us obtain title to this abandoned home and find a responsible owner to save this property?”

Since the empty home would have become a demolition candidate with no action, the land bank discussed using a proactive code tool with Catlin called the Abandonment Petition Process that allows local municipalities to take title to vacant and abandoned properties through a legal process if there are two or more years of back taxes or unpaid water.

In partnership with Catlin, CILBA started the legal Abandonment Petition Process in 2021 and obtained title to the property through a judicial deed in 2022.

According to CILBA’s Executive Director Mike Davis there are real costs to allowing properties to deteriorate over time with no proactive code action.

For example, an average individual abandoned house will 1) contribute $0 in tax revenue, 2) cost taxpayers hundreds if not thousands per year in board-up, grass cutting and debris removal, 3) decrease property values on neighboring property within 500 feet by 4%-15%, 4) decrease quality of life for neighboring families; increase crime, 5) discourage investment in surrounding properties, and 6) ultimately result in a $15,000-$20,000 cost to demolish the structure if the property is not rehabbed in time.

While taking title to 402 Webster so it could be saved from demolition was one goal for CILBA, the other critical piece was finding a responsible owner willing to bring the property up to code. The land bank marketed the property on its website for several weeks, received three different applications, and sold to an aspiring first-time homebuyer, Rachyl Anderson, whose family lives nearby.

Rachyl grew up in Catlin and her family could see 402 Webster St. from her backyard. She said “since I had just graduated college and wanted to stay in the Catlin community, buying 402 Webster was a great opportunity for me and my boyfriend, Connor Taylor. Luckily, Connor and I have a great support system. Both of our families have helped tremendously. Additionally, a great family friend, Reuben, has also put in countless time renovating and redesigning. We are truly grateful for all that have helped. The land bank made the process of purchasing property super easy.”

During the past year, she has invested tens of thousands to rehab the property. Rachyl’s family once sat on their backporch drinking coffee in the morning looking at 402 Wesbter slowly decaying. Once the rehab is completed later this year, Rachyl will be able to wave to her family from this same newly-rehabbed property.

Catlin Board Member Leslie Almy said, “This is what the Village of Catlin hoped for in joining the land bank. We’re thrilled this property has seen significant rehab investment and was sold to a first-time homebuyer. It’s great the land bank was able to save this property from demolition and keep it on the tax rolls for years to come.”

The land bank spent $5,000 on legal costs to obtain the property and sold it for the same amount. No profit was made by CILBA in saving the abandoned home. CILBA’s staff time on this project was support by the Illinois Housing Development Authority’s Land Bank Capacity Program grant, which has now ended.

Based on this experience, CILBA is attempting to scale the work more broadly in the region with federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The city of Decatur has dedicated $500,000 ARPA funds for CILBA to rehab abandoned homes, sell to first-time homebuyers, and then recycle the sales proceeds towards rehabbing the next abandoned home.

“This initiative of rehabbing abandoned homes is very exciting and something we hope to scale throughout the region with local members providing ARPA funds. These abandoned homes require significant rehab funding to save and get them anywhere close to code compliant,” Davis said. “It’s important local governments understand there isn’t money to be made doing this work and they will need to invest in their land bank to see this proactive work continue.”

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