By Ed Runyan
Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa says tax foreclosures – a tool for ridding the county of blighted homes – hit a record number in 2017, but the number of such foreclosures will decline over the next three years.
At that point, Lamancusa said, the tool will have finished its job of eliminating the most-blighted homes, and only a small number of tax foreclosures will be necessary.
“It’s revitalizing neighborhoods. It’s eliminating blight,” Lamancusa said of the 624 tax foreclosures filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in 2017, many of which will result in demolition of a vacant home.
There were 495 filed in 2016, the previous high number.
The county has been successful in securing $12.5 million in state and federal aid to demolish vacant homes in recent years.
The funds have deadlines in 2019, however, so Trumbull County Land Bank officials such as Lamancusa and the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership are trying to work efficiently to acquire tax-delinquent properties through foreclosure and turn over some of them to the land bank for demolition.
Lamancusa created the nonprofit land bank corporation. TNP, another nonprofit corporation, and the land bank board of directors run the land bank.
Lamancusa said there’s no danger of running out of homes to demolish before the money runs out.
“We will use the grant money and need more,” Lamancusa said.
Eighty percent of the tax foreclosures filed by the county treasurer’s office over the past three years were for abandoned properties.
Homes for which years’ worth of property taxes are owed but the owner still wants the house can be “redeemed” in the foreclosure process. It frequently involves putting the owner on a payment plan to help bring the account current.
“We’ve just about wiped out the ‘F’ houses,” Lamancusa said of homes classified a few years ago as being in the worst shape.
The use of tax foreclosures over the last three years has accomplished its purpose just the way it was intended, Lamancusa said.
Blighted structures have been removed, the resulting vacant lots have been converted in many cases to side lots for neighbors or community gardens, and the number of homes delinquent on their property taxes has declined.
“You ride through a neighborhood now and see a nice garden or a lot a neighbor is mowing that used to have six or seven vacant homes,” Lamancusa said.
The program is at the high point of tax-foreclosure filings, Lamancusa said. He expects the number to drop to around 50 per year or fewer within three years. That would be roughly the number that were filed annually before the foreclosure crisis that began about a decade ago.
Matt Martin, executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, says the 150 demolitions it carried out in 2017 is the highest number so far, but he expects TNP to take down about 250 this year. It removed about 250 from 2015 through 2016.
TNP and the land bank also salvage homes they receive through tax foreclosure – about 250 since 2013. There are 16 such homes on the TNP website right now listed for sale to the public.
Lynn Griffith III, an attorney with the county prosecutor’s office, files the tax foreclosures on behalf of the treasurer’s office.
The number of foreclosures Griffith files is directly tied to the number of delinquent land certificates the treasurer’s office issues.
For a certificate to be filed, the property must be delinquent for at least two years and the appropriate notices need to have been issued to the property owner.
There have been tax foreclosures and demolitions in all the county’s cities and about seven of the townships in recent years, Lamancusa said. Warren has the most.
Griffith said he takes pride in doing his part to keep tax foreclosures flowing through the common pleas court to provide the land bank with the opportunity to rid the county of homes that need to be removed.
“I drive down Washington, Porter, Scott Street, and you can see the results,” Griffith said of streets just north of Courthouse Square filled with stately homes, many of which have fallen into disrepair. “I think there is some improvement.”