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Kent County commissioners vote to dissolve Land Bank

BY Thursday, December 20, 2018 02:21pm

GRAND RAPIDS — To the disappointment of executives and several nonprofits present, the Kent County Board of Commissioners voted today to dissolve the Kent County Land Bank Authority.

Some commissioners cited issues of “mission creep” in voting 11-8 to withdraw from an intergovernmental agreement between the Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority and the county treasurer to dissolve the Land Bank, which will have 12 months to handle its liabilities and agreements before it concludes.

“It is what it is now,” Ken Parrish, county treasurer and chair of the land bank authority, told MiBiz. “We have to figure out how we can move forward.”

Parrish said the land bank authority will begin to take a status of projects it’s involved in, sell all of its property and pay off debts.

Some ambiguity remains as to whether the Land Bank’s assets go to the state land bank or to Kent County, something Parrish said he needs to figure out in the coming months.

During a lengthy discussion, some commissioners argued the Kent County Land Bank, founded in 2011, had fulfilled its original intent and was no longer needed because the real estate market had improved.

However, representatives of nonprofits and advocates for affordable housing said otherwise, and asked the board to take a longer look before voting. In a Dec. 17 letter, the city of Grand Rapids also asked for the resolution to be tabled for more discussion.

“It is a valuable tool that is available to governments to preserve affordable housing,” said Laurie Craft, vice president for community investment at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “It’s really disappointing that this decision is being brought up and voted on within a matter of days.”

The resolution was recommended by the county finance committee on Dec. 18.

Commissioners who voted against the resolution argued more time was needed for review, but those who voted to dissolve the Land Bank said that had already been accomplished.

In 2016, a subcommittee of commissioners reviewed the Land Bank and made recommendations on improvements, saying the body would be reviewed again in 2020. This year, staff from the county administrator’s office conducted an “implementation review” by interviewing stakeholders to see if those recommendations had been met.

The move came as some commissioners questioned the mission of the Land Bank after its executive director, David Allen, rebranded the organization as Innova-Lab and partnered with Champion Homes Inc. to begin developing modular homes throughout Grand Rapids.

According to Board of Commissioners Chair Jim Saalfeld, the Land Bank’s pivot demonstrated its unwillingness to work under the subcommittee’s recommendations.

Saalfeld said his reason for voting to dissolve the Land Bank stemmed its fulfillment of its original mission to address blight in the county when the real estate market was in bad shape.

“This is about a program we adopted in 2011,” he said. “It did its job, did it well, and we promised the citizens of Kent County at that time that we would close it down when it had done its job.”

One commissioner questioned where nonprofits could go to get help in clearing titles, a key function of the Land Bank. Kent County Corporate Counsel Linda Howell said the action could be done in Circuit Court.

The move does not prevent Kent County from establishing another land bank in the future.

The intergovernmental agreement states that the disposition of remaining assets, including properties owned by the land bank authority, are subject to agreement between the county treasurer and the state authority.

However, the Land Bank’s articles of incorporation specify that assets go to Kent County or to local units, if there are interlocal agreements requiring that.

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