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Wednesday, November 30,2011

A house gets its ‘before’ picture

Ingham County Land Bank gives 530 Pacific Ave. a second chance

by Lawrence Cosentino

(For the next several months,
Lawrence Cosentino will follow the progress of one house being
renovated for sale by the Ingham County Land Bank. This is the first in
an occasional series.)


Two Bibles and a bottle of Bud Light rested on the piano
at tax-foreclosed 530 Pacific Ave., next to a heart-shaped sign on the
living room wall.


“Whatsoever lot God gives you in life … build on it,” the sign read.


The prescient sign made Chris Kolbe, the Ingham County
Land Bank’s new marketing man, do a double-take when he visited the
house last week. 


“Honestly, I did not stage that,” he said.


Sure enough, the leaky, abandoned house on Lansing’s
south side is slated for a $50,000 renovation in the next three to four
months. The Land Bank bought the two-story 1925 house across from the
old John Bean factory in July for $6,371 in back taxes owed by the
absent owner.


Despite some cheerful kid art scrawled on the walls, the place looked well shredded.


“I can see walls coming out,” Kolbe said. “It’s the original plaster and it’s getting pretty bad.”


Kolbe said 530 Pacific is about “middle of the road”
among some 40 Land Bank fix-up projects now under way all over Lansing.
“We’ve had better, and we’ve had a lot worse,” he shrugged.


The spate of rehabs makes up the prettier half of a
two-pronged push to blunt the blighting tide of foreclosure and
abandonment. The bad-cop half is a late-fall round of 30 demolitions —
15 in November and 15 in December — targeting houses the Land Bank
deems incorrigible.


Last week, Kolbe picked his way through the books, toys,
broken lamps and heaps of clothes strewn throughout 530 Pacific, from
front porch to back door.


He was unfazed by the torn wallpaper, crumbling walls and
collapsed drop ceilings. He didn’t blink at the rusting hulk of a
furnace or the huge hole in the wall behind the kitchen sink. 


The plucky area just south of I-496, anchored by an old
factory that is hosting a dozens of new businesses, makes 530 Pacific
an ideal Land Bank project.


 “This house
has good bones,” Kolbe said. “The only structural support it needs is
maybe under the porch. Those floors are all yellow pine, and they
refinish pretty nice. Right now people like wood floors.”


Meanwhile, at the Land Bank’s office just south of Old
Town, in a vault-like vestibule of giant file cabinets, 530 Pacific is
growing into a thick folder of inspection checklists, contracts,
subcontracts, financial records and other documents. The Land Bank owns
about 800 properties, of which about 100 are undergoing demolition or
rehabbing.


The housing market has been full of distractions and
disruptions in recent years, but the “middle of the road” project on
Pacific Avenue lies at the heart of the Land Bank’s mission — to
fast-track tax-reverted property to productive use and shore up
plunging property values in key neighborhoods.


It hasn’t been easy to stick to that mission. 


Soon after the Land Bank pitched its tent in 2005, the
mortgage foreclosure avalanche crashed down on the market. A timely $18
million infusion of federal stimulus money helped the Land Bank ramp up
operations and handle mortgage foreclosed houses as well as tax
foreclosures, but the stimulus will be spent by the end of next year.


The current wave of rehabs and demolitions is partly
funded by that federal money. Barring a freak housing boom, Eric
Schertzing, Ingham County treasurer and chairman of the board of the
Land Bank, is pretty sure he won’t be rehabbing 40 houses this time
next year.


“We have a challenge,” Schertzing declared. “What are we
going to do in 2013 and 2014, when we will still have some significant
issues? We need to come up with that answer as a community — the city,
the county, [the State of Michigan], whoever else is in the mix.”


Fortunately, the worst of the crisis seems to be easing.
Tax foreclosures have “leveled off” at 250 to 300 a year in Lansing,
according to Schertzing, while mortgage foreclosures have “noticeably
declined.” In 2011, about 1,700 to 1,800 homes went through mortgage
foreclosure in Ingham County, of which 1,200 to 1,300 were in Lansing.
Schertzing said that’s a 20 percent drop from 2010.


Prospects are also looking better at the sales end of the
housing pipeline. The Land Bank closed sales on 30 of its rehabbed
houses so far this year, compared to 21 in 2010, and hit the $100,000
mark on a few of the newest rehab jobs.


“That begins to reset the entire market,” Schertzing said.


In the next three to four months, 530
Pacific will get a standard Land Bank makeover, including gutted and
rebuilt kitchen and bathrooms, energy efficient windows, a new roof and
furnace, new plumbing, refinished floors and new wiring.


An energy audit, followed by huddles with contractors,
will get the project under way. However, as of last week, there were
still heaps of stuff strewn through the house. About 20 coats were
hanging in the front closet. A massive dining room table lay on its
edge. Shelves and boxes were crammed with a seemingly random mix of
authors, from Steve Martin to Charles Dickens to Sen. John McCain.


Instead of tossing everything into a Dumpster, Schertzing
would like to see the Land Bank link up with area volunteers who are
willing to pick through the flotsam at 530 Pacific and other Land Bank
projects. With so many balls in the air, his overworked staff doesn’t
have time to sift through everything.


“We’d especially like to find a home for the piano,” Kolbe said.



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