Land Bank Wants to Sell More than 4,400 Vacant Lots
By Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business | January 30th, 2017
More than 4,400 vacant lots in Chicago and the suburbs are going up for sale in an effort to attract development to areas that need it.
With the new offering of vacant lots to be announced today, “we’re trying to speed up the process of empty land being put back to use,” said Bridget Gainer, a Cook County commissioner who chairs the four-year-old Cook County Land Bank.
Until now, the land bank had been selling only vacant homes, to rehabbers or families who fix them up for their own use. The land bank sells formerly delinquent properties after cleansing them of red tape, such as back taxes and fines.
Because of the land bank’s ability to wipe past problems off a property’s title, “we can make it more affordable and faster for a developer or a next-door neighbor or a garden club to start a project, or to just put a fence around the lot and keep it up.”
More than 85 percent of the lots are in residential areas. Rob Rose, executive director of the land bank, said the pricing had not yet been finalized but that most of the lots would cost $3,000 to $5,000.
“It’s lower than any land transaction that has taken place in the community,” Rose said.
Every lot is within half-mile of a CTA or Metra rail stop or a stop on a major bus line, making them appealing for redevelopment. But Rose and Gainer said they expect the buyers will be a mix of residential and commercial developers, residents near or next to the lots, and garden or civic clubs.
“Build a garden or a basketball court,” Rose said. Buyers will not be required to build within a specified time frame or, if they build housing for resale, to conform to any city-sponsored affordability requirements, he said.
“We’re trying to stimulate the market without any market-limiting activities,” he said.
Gainer and Rose will announce at a City Club of Chicago event today that the land bank has 4,437 vacant lots available for sale, 3,208 in the city and 649 in Cook County suburbs. Another group of about 3,000 will be offered later, Rose said.
“These lots have been vacant for anywhere from five to 10 years,” Gainer said, and were all sold for delinquent taxes by the Cook County treasurer in 2015.
The lots are scattered around the 27 city neighborhoods and suburbs where the land bank is focusing its effort this year to try to concentrate improvements in areas that need a boost. The 12 city neighborhoods include Austin, Chatham and Greater Grand Crossing. Among the suburbs on the list are Burbank, Maywood and Riverdale.
They’re all areas where developers are reluctant to spend the money required to clear up a property’s legal status. “The property may not have been worth as much as the back taxes, so nobody’s going to take it on,” Rose said.
“If you’re a developer looking at Finkl Steel’s old site on the North Side,” Gainer said, “you can afford to cover the legal costs” because of the high potential for profit on the other end. The land bank’s lots are in areas where both profit margins and investors’ pockets are much smaller, she said.