Moline, Rock Island and East Moline are teaming up to reduce blight, create housing and development, as well as grow the region’s tax rolls through the new Illinois Quad Cities Land Bank (IQCLB). “We will be the ninth land bank in the State of Illinois,” said K.J. Whitley, community development manager for the City of […]
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Moline, Rock Island and East Moline are teaming up to reduce blight, create housing and development, as well as grow the region’s tax rolls through the new Illinois Quad Cities Land Bank (IQCLB).“We will be the ninth land bank in the State of Illinois,” said K.J. Whitley, community development manager for the City of Moline, who has captained the land bank’s formation. “We’re very excited about that.”On Tuesday, April 5, the Moline City Council became the last of the three municipalities to give final approval to the regional housing reclamation authority and the intergovernmental agreement creating it.Two more steps remain before the authority can begin collectively and aggressively addressing idle properties and attacking eyesore properties. A board of directors has to be appointed by participating cities and a land bank manager will be hired to run its day-to-day operations. According to the job description provided by Moline, the position will be responsible for overall management and operation, protection of land bank assets, ensuring compliance with board directives, preparing and handling legal and highly confidential information, and coordinating with partners in program planning, program scheduling and implementation efforts.Moline took the lead on the land bank’s formation because it has the most comprehensive and extensive housing and property reclamation program, Ms. Whitley said. “We have a great model in Moline right now. We’re just making it regional.” The city also is building on shared services like its lead-based paint reduction program. Why develop regionally? Ms. Whitley said helping other cities lifts up not only Moline but the entire region.The process to form the land bank began when Moline applied for and received the first of two grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) to explore the concept. The city commissioned a feasibility study and began approaching other governments to join the effort. For the past 13 months, Moline has been talking with the two participating cities as well as with Rock Island County, Coal Valley, Silvis and Milan. Those entities opted to wait until the authority is operating before making a decision about signing on, Ms. Whitely said, adding “We’re anxious for others to join us.” In addition to the IHDA grants, Moline has committed $250,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and has created a three-year operating budget to help the land bank during its startup, Ms. Whitely said. The bank balance and budget allows the authority to begin working on projects and still remain in the black while the IQCLB generates the dollars it needs to sustain itself.Participating local leaders stressed that the land bank is not a taxing authority and it will not be levying any new assessments on residents or property owners. Operating funds will come from grants obtained by cities and the land bank and from dollars raised by selling reclaimed properties.According to the feasibility study commissioned by Moline, the land bank will:
Develop a common means to identify, acquire, hold and dispose of property.
Acquire and stabilize properties.
Develop the capacity for homeowners, local contractors, and small developers to rehab and build new homes.
Create an opportunity for locally-driven economic development.
Bring properties back into the tax base as responsible, taxpaying owners.
Cities such as Moline and Rock Island already are doing many of those things on their own. For example, Beth Payne, vice president of the Rock Island-based Economic Growth Corp. (GROWTH) said, “GROWTH has entered into agreements to acquire or receive a donation of land that is project-specific and is tied to a direct redevelopment effort and plan/funding source. A good example of that would be our New Old Chicago Redevelopment where much was funded through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2 Grant that GROWTH was a direct recipient of $18.5 million that included other partner cities.”But the new land bank will allow cities to partner with groups, developers and nonprofits – such as GROWTH – to do even more. “Having a regional land bank provides another tool in the revitalization tool box and is key to assisting communities with various revitalization efforts,” Ms. Payne said. “Having an inventory of available redevelopment sites will certainly assist local government work with developers, like GROWTH and others, in seeking and determining various revitalization efforts that fit and align within the community planning efforts that result in new opportunities to increase help to assist local residents and businesses.”Added Miles Brainard, the City of Rock Island’s new community and economic development director, “A land bank is an intergovernmental agency that in effect borrows some of the home rule powers of its constituent municipalities. Chiefly, it has the power to acquire properties through tax auction or judicial deed and get clear title, wiping away back taxes and liens. Once it has the property with a clean slate, the land bank can then sell it for rehabilitation or reuse.”His city will benefit, he said, because Rock Island contains a very large inventory of both city-owned vacant lots and abandoned properties including both vacant lots and buildings the city does not own. “The city-owned properties were acquired over many decades as part of slum and blight removal. A number of years ago, however, the state laws for demolition changed so that the city no longer has to acquire a property in order to undertake demolition,” he said. Many of those properties are slowly being sold off to adjacent property owners.”These days, Rock Island’s focus has increasingly turned to abandoned properties. “These are a problem because they reduce property values, are often unsafe, and generally blight the community,” he said. “An exact number is hard to determine, but it is reasonable to assume that there are hundreds of abandoned properties throughout Rock Island.”Rock Island alone, Mr. Brainard said, “lacks the capacity to acquire and repurpose all of these properties. As such, when Moline commissioned a feasibility study for establishing a regional land bank, we were very interested.”Another advantage of the land bank, he said, is it will free up staff time and open new avenues of funding. “The constituent cities can apply for grants, as can the land bank itself, resulting in an improved pooling of resources. My hope is that the regional land bank will gradually reduce the overall number of abandoned properties in Rock Island. It will take time, but I think the effort is well worth it.”So do leaders in East Moline, which unlike Rock Island and Moline is not a home-rule city. “As a non-home rule community there are more steps and a longer waiting period to acquire properties than those communities who are home rule,’’ said East Moline City Administrator Doug Maxeiner. “By the city joining the land bank, we can piggyback on Moline and Rock Island’s home rule authority to, again, complete the process in a more cost-effective and efficient manner.”“The City of East Moline hopes to strengthen our partnerships with the neighboring communities while at the same time improving the quality of life for our residents,” he added