CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cook County Land Bank was established in 2014 as a result of the financial crisis.

“It’s meant to address one thing that is so important. ‘How do you make sure neighborhoods are sustainable?'” said Bridget Gainer, Cook County Commissioner, who spearheaded the program. “Right after the financial crisis, we started to see this spike in foreclosures and the foreclosures, because they were so many of them, lead to longer and longer turnarounds in court which lead to more vacant homes.”

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“The acquisition process for housing is tough. You really want to figure out a way to rehab homes with people in the community and use the most local labor and business as possible because then that keeps the investment in the community and builds it up even further.”

Gainer said the Land Bank program buys vacant housing, clears the title, taxes and leans and connects with rehabbers and developers who then sell the home to new buyers. WBBM’s Lisa Fielding reports.

“For us, the important thing was how do we build and attract a group of developers in the community, how do we acquire the housing, and go through the court process? Part of the problem is going through those legal hurdles to make sure that housing was available,” Gainer said.

The Land Bank’s startup was funded by the Illinois Attorney General’s office in 2014 as a result of the national mortgage crisis settlement.

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“In the course of that time, we’ve been able to buy 400 homes, we’ve sold 300 homes, but we sold those 300 homes to 135 unique developers so we’ve spent a lot of time in recruiting and investing in local developers in ensuring that they have the chance to get the benefit of these rehab dollars,” she said. “We aren’t just rehabbing housing, we’re also building these small businesses throughout the community.”

3338 W Potomac, before development (left) after development (right) (Credit: Cook County Land Bank)

3338 W Potomac, before development (left) after development (right) (Credit: Cook County Land Bank)

Gainer said the neighborhoods that have benefited the most are Chicago’s Auburn Gresham, Chatham and in Des Plaines where there was flooding and blight.

“We’re just about to relaunch 10 homes in Chatham. Chatham and Auburn Gresham have strong housing stock and is ripe for development,” she said.

Gainer said their goal is a 1,000 homes in 2017.

“Look, I don’t want to live next to a vacant home. Nobody does. It isn’t just that it brings down your property values, but it attracts crime,” Gainer said. “What The Land Bank is trying to do, is rehab homes and getting a family back into it, who is a homeowner and not just a renter is our highest goal and it’s something we’ve been able to do more than 300 times.”

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For more information, log onto http://www.cookcountylandbank.org/