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Alpena County builds land bank to boost housing

File photo

ALPENA — Alpena County, Alpena, and Target Alpena are working to fill the newly developed county land bank with properties that could lead to the development of housing in the area.

A land bank is a public authority created to efficiently acquire, hold, manage, and develop tax-foreclosed, vacant, blighted, obsolete, and abandoned properties.

Once a property and project are inserted into the land bank project, it opens the door to grants geared for housing and other community needs.

Lenny Avery, economic development coordinator for the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce, is working side by side with partners from the county and city to locate and acquire properties that are ripe for improvements and new housing development. He said the land bank already has a $500,000 grant from the state to build a pair of new homes and an additional $500,000 federal grant through the American Rescue Plan Act for the demolition of blighted properties.

“This is about getting those types of properties ready for housing later,” Avery said.

The grants are reimbursable, so the money must be paid upfront.

Avery said he has been working with Jeff Konczak, a local developer and owner of the old Fletcher Paper Mill, about including the mill in the land bank. He said he applied for a $2.5 million state grant that would help pay for the demolition of the old plant and set the stage for a larger project later.

Konczak has committed $500,000 toward the cost of the partial destruction of the plant. Avery said Konczak decided to commit more than he needed to because it strengthened the scoring of the grant application and increased the odds of the money being awarded locally.

“That gave us an additional 10 points in scoring because he ponied up,” Avery said. “That is going to make our application more competitive.”

Avery said currently, the land bank, which was only created months ago, has zero properties or projects in it. He said he expects that to change soon, as dozens of possible locations the county could add, either through non-payment of taxes, sale, or other measures.

“I have been getting help from the community in finding locations,” Avery said. “They ask me about a certain house and if it would work and most often I didn’t know it existed. Then I can contact the city and county to see who owns it and we can reach out to them. It’s funny because many of them are owned by out-of-town individuals who really don’t have any connection to our community and don’t want any more.”

Avery said once the first round of houses is built and sold, the money remains in the land bank and can be used to build more housing and the process repeats itself and the program becomes self-sustaining. He said that even if the houses that are built with the grant sell for less than what it cost to build them, that is ok and ultimately the goal of the government funding.

“This isn’t about making a lot of money,” he said. “It’s about adding housing and finding places to live and homes for people to own. It’s ok if we take a slight loss.”

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