Kent County Land Bank rebranded as Innova-Lab in the summer of 2018 as a pivot toward the construction of modular housing. Innova-Lab’s work is expected to continue after the dissolution of the Land Bank. Kent County Land Bank rebranded as Innova-Lab in the summer of 2018 as a pivot toward the construction of modular housing. Innova-Lab’s work is expected to continue after the dissolution of the Land Bank. COURTESY PHOTO

Kent County Land Bank purges properties; Grand Rapids to work with state land bank

BY Sunday, April 14, 2019 08:28pm

GRAND RAPIDS — Ahead of the impending dissolution of the Kent County Land Bank Authority, the city of Grand Rapids and the Michigan Land Bank are working to form a partnership to allow the local agency’s services to continue under the state banner.

While the details of the partnership are still being fleshed out, the Michigan Land Bank’s board approved moving forward on negotiations with the city.

Josh Burgett, director of the Michigan Land Bank, said he expects a partnership agreement will come before the board at its June 20 meeting.

Grand Rapids inquired about the use of quiet title and other services it traditionally received from the Kent County Land Bank, which the Kent County Commission voted to dissolve last December. The Kent County Land Bank has until the end of the year to wrap up operations. The city envisions a partnership that is essentially the same as the one it had with the Kent County Land Bank, said Eric DeLong, deputy city manager.

“The Kent County Land Bank had its own strategy, and what we want to work on is to be the strategic arm of the Michigan Land Bank here in Grand Rapids,” DeLong said.

Despite the city’s opposition to dissolving the Kent County Land Bank, DeLong predicted the new partnership will put the city in a positive place.

Burgett said he is a little concerned about providing the same level of service to the city in the absence of a local, more accessible land bank.

“Technology certainly helps us work together, but I don’t know if we are in a position from a resource standpoint to provide the same amount of service they got from the Kent County Land Bank,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to navigate right now.”

Winding down

Executives at the Kent County Land Bank say they are starting to deliver on the wishes of the county commission by purging its properties ahead of the December deadline. The wind down could be finished as soon as September.

“We’re just trying to make it as seamless as possible, working closely with the Michigan Land Bank to try to figure out ways to continue to meet the needs of Kent County, even if the Kent County Land Bank doesn’t exist,” said Ken Parrish, county treasurer and chairman of the Kent County Land Bank.

The Kent County Board of Commissioners cited “mission creep” in voting in December to dissolve the Kent County Land Bank Authority, which was operating as Innova-Lab. Ultimately, commissioners decided the Land Bank had completed its mission.

Several nonprofit developers disagreed, telling MiBiz they still rely on the Land Bank to clear messy titles and provide other important services needed for affordable housing projects around the region.

Since the Kent County Land Bank is the first active land bank to be slated for dissolution in Michigan, some unknowns remain, but the ways in which the authority’s services can be provided once it no longer exists are starting to become clearer.

The Michigan Land Bank works with local units of government and land banks across the state, and has some properties in Kent County.

Burgett said the Kent County Land Bank did better than others in the state when it came to getting properties redeveloped and back on the tax rolls.

The legal teams for both entities are working together to determine the successor entity of the Kent County Land Bank’s properties, which would hold the local Land Bank’s properties. Both Burgett and Parrish said it will likely be the Michigan Land Bank.

Next steps

Parrish hopes developers and nonprofits who worked with the Kent County Land Bank in the past can operate similarly in the future even without a local authority in place.

When the vote took place last December, Parrish estimated the land bank held 125 properties. It now has 85-90 properties remaining, most of which are vacant lots.

Before the county’s vote, the Land Bank had signed contracts to construct 10 more modular homes in Grand Rapids, which will be constructed and sold before the end of the year, Parrish said. Some other projects that were in discussion phase were halted.

The Land Bank is still providing quiet title services until it’s done operating. This was a primary concern for nonprofit developers.

“That’s not in jeopardy for this year,” Parrish said. “Obviously, other arrangements will have to be made for 2020 and beyond.”

Regardless of whether a partnership with the city comes to fruition, the Michigan Land Bank’s mission remains the same.

“We will work with Kent County like we work with all other counties and local communities in the state of Michigan to make sure we get these properties back to productive use,” Burgett said.

Staying modular

The Kent County Land Bank no longer goes by Innova-Lab. The organization was rebranded to Innova-Lab in summer 2018, as the local Land Bank pivoted its focus to modular housing. This work was spearheaded by David Allen, executive director of the Land Bank.

While the local Land Bank will be shuttered this fall, Allen said he plans to continue Innova-Lab’s work because of an “outpouring of requests” to the Land Bank for assistance in developing affordable housing around the state.

“Toward that end, I am launching Innova-Lab as a standalone business built to help bring unique modular solutions to help local units of government, nonprofits and for profit developers with their housing needs,” he told MiBiz in an email.

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