By Justin Wier
Mahoning County experienced the largest growth in foreclosure filings among large Ohio counties between 2015 and 2016, according to a recent study, but more than half of the filings were tax foreclosures initiated by the Mahoning County Land Bank.
There were 1,289 foreclosures filed in the county in 2016, up 9.9 percent from 1,173 in 2015, a study by Policy Matters Ohio found.
Although an increase from 2015, the number remains lower than the 1,381 foreclosures in the county in 2011, the earliest year for which the report provided data.
Foreclosures dropped in the county from 2011 through 2014 before rising again in 2015 and 2016.
In 2016, the Mahoning County Land Bank initiated 660 tax foreclosures, up from 623 the previous year.
This still leaves an increase of 79 foreclosures from 2015 to 2016, or a 6.7 percent increase, unexplained by county land bank activity.
These numbers, however, do not include tax foreclosures initiated by municipal or township land banks in Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell and Boardman.
Ian Beniston, executive director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., said it’s important to distinguish between tax foreclosures and bank foreclosures.
Bank foreclosures occur when someone is unable to pay his or her mortgage, which could lead to a property becoming blighted or vacant. Tax foreclosures often represent a group such as the Mahoning County Land Bank moving to acquire those blighted or vacant properties.
“The tax foreclosure thing could actually be good because the land bank is acquiring more properties and wiping out blight,” Beniston said.
Debora Flora, land bank executive director, said tax foreclosure is a necessity to assure people they have clear title to a tax-delinquent property and won’t take on existing debts. The land bank will turn tax-delinquent properties over to new owners, including people who want to expand their yard, when a house is demolished, or for projects including the Joseph Co. International chill-can technology, can-filling and distribution center on the East Side.
Flora expressed hope bank foreclosures are not on the rise.
“We thought that we saw a peak several years ago, so I would hope that we’re not seeing another spike in that type of activity,” she said.
Beniston said the trend will be worth monitoring and suggested it could be the result of financial institutions loosening lending requirements that were tightened after the 2008 financial crisis.
“I think the message is that there’s plenty of work here to keep doing because we don’t want to see that going up,” Beniston said.
The county also led the state in foreclosure density, or the number of foreclosure filings per 1,000 residents.
Mahoning had 5.6 foreclosures per 1,000 residents in 2016, up from 5.1 in 2015.
Removing tax foreclosures initiated by the land bank, however, would reduce the numbers to 2.9 in 2016 and 2.4 in 2015, which would place Mahoning County outside the top 10.
Across the state, foreclosure filings fell by 3.75 percent from 39,479 in 2015 to 38,963 in 2016.
Foreclosures in Ohio have dropped by more than half from the 2009 peak of 89,000, yet still remain more than twice as high as the 15,975 foreclosures filed in 1995.