Kudos to the leaders of Moline, Rock Island and East Moline who are working regionally to attack the challenge of redeveloping blighted and abandoned properties in the Illinois Quad Cities.
An extra round of applause to Moline and its Community Development Manager K.J. Whitley who is leading creation of the Illinois Quad Cities Land Bank (IQCLB) not only to lift up that city but its neighbors.
There’s plenty to celebrate about the new venture, including the welcome regional approach Moline chose to take to turn eyesores into housing and new developments. The better news is that current partners are equally eager for more communities to get on board.
For example, Ms. Whitley said she hopes Milan, Coal Valley, Silvis and Rock Island County, which initially were approached about the land bank, will join the team. All could benefit from the authority’s powers to buy or seize abandoned and delinquent properties, create new housing and development and get idle properties back on the tax rolls.
Some of what the new land bank will do is already being done by individual cities. But it will function a bit like a development authority on steroids. And it won’t do it by digging into taxpayers’ or property owners’ pockets for new taxes or special assessments.
Here’s how it works, according to Miles Brainard, 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.”
The benefits for the City of East Moline — the only non-home-rule city currently participating — are three-fold. The land bank gives East Moline additional authority and options for dealing with problem properties that Moline and Rock Island already enjoy through their home-rule powers. And along with Rock Island, which has a large inventory of vacant properties, East Moline will benefit from the staff time freed up when it transfers responsibility for maintenance of those properties to IQCLB. Finally, the land bank will open a shared pool of new avenues of funding for the communities, agencies and nonprofit partners via grants and money generated by the sale of reclaimed properties.
Moline organizers also have worked to ensure that the startup agency has enough money to make an immediate impact and ensure it can be sustained into the future. Thanks to a commitment from Moline’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and a pair of startup grants, the land bank has more than a quarter of a million dollars in the bank, or about three years of operating expenses.
We look forward to one-day sharing the IQCLB’s success stories and hope they will inspire other communities to join this effort to grow the region sooner rather than later.
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