Daily Journal

The Kankakee County Board approved a resolution this past week that authorized the board chairman to sign an inter-governmental agreement to establish the Kankakee Regional Land Bank.

The agreement has been in the planning stages for a couple years, but the regional land bank got a boost when both the county and city of Kankakee were each awarded $175,000 grants from the state in December.

“There’s a lot of benefit to this of having a regional land bank,” said Board Chairman Andy Wheeler, who said it will named the Kankakee Regional Land Bank.

The grants from the Illinois Housing Development Authority were part of $10 million awarded under the new Strong Communities Program, the initiative that will provide funding to 68 units of local governments and land bank authorities for the acquisition, maintenance, rehabilitation and demolition of abandoned residential properties in their communities, according to the IHDA.

The Kankakee Regional Land Bank will work toward bringing abandoned, blighted commercial and residential properties back onto the tax rolls.

“The county will get the home-rule powers to quick-take, if you will, take those properties,” said Wheeler at the county board meeting. “We are the trustees, so we can wipe away all the back taxes and the liens and get those vacant properties, either all the copper is gone, windows are all broken or it could be a commercial business that’s sitting there, that somebody wants to develop but there’s millions in taxes.

“It’s a way to wipe all that clean without going through the courts for two years, which most people doing deals don’t want to wait that long. It’s a really nice tool for residential and commercial change within a community in the county.”

Ben Wilson, county transportation manager, said the land bank is aimed at properties that don’t generate taxes and don’t contribute and become a drain on communities.

“It’s about stabilization and raising housing values,” Wilson said. “You can’t overcome eight years of back taxes as a developer. The development community which just says we can go in so many other places and develop somewhere else. So we’re allowed to use targeted efforts on properties we need to get back on the tax rolls.

“… There are prime properties in residential areas that could be turned over, and this tool is just another thing for us to work on and more on the alliance side of enticing people to develop in Kankakee County.”

Wheeler said mayors from Bourbonnais, Manteno and Hopkins Park have already reached out to him.

“The communities are lining up, and I think we’re going to truly have a regional land bank that benefits anybody in the county that wants to be a part of this in terms of municipal governments,” he said.

Wheeler is hopeful the Kankakee Regional Land Bank will be operational in the next two to six months.

“I’d loved to see it when this thing hits the ground running and we start taking some of these properties that are just sitting there and we get developers interested in flipping them,” he said. “It’s going to be good for communities on a local block-to-block level.”

Associate Editor

Chris Breach is the Associate Editor of The Daily Journal and the editor of the business section. A graduate of Indiana University, Breach has more than 25 years experience in newspapers. He can be reached at cbreach@daily-journal.com.