No one owns more empty lots in Akron than the city.
Based a review of county property records by the Beacon Journal, City Hall owns 1,341 empty lots in Akron — a figure the city says roughly matches its count. The Summit County Land Bank, formed in 2012 in response to the housing foreclosure crisis, owns another 572.
These 1,913 empty lots, appraised at $34.1 million, are worth more to the city than their taxable value.
If sold to responsible developers or neighbors or families who would build new homes on them, the lots could advance the city’s mission of equitable growth, using stable owner-occupied homes to help drive Akron’s population from 200,000 to 250,000 by 2050.
But as it stands, the city can’t get rid of these lots much faster than it gets new ones. With every home that is condemned, demolished, foreclosed on by banks and tax collectors or left on the public auction block, the portfolio of publicly owned and distressed properties grows.
It’s a problem that’s decades in the making but one that took off in 2005 at the beginning of local housing crisis, then accelerated with the ensuing foreclosures and demolitions. And now the city and the land bank have asked a tech company to help them return these dormant properties to productive use.
This month, the city launched a new website curated by Tolemi, a software company used for years by the land bank to understand and visualize its property data.
Work in progress
The website is a work in progress. The 156 city-owned lots populating the map so far represent less than 12% of all the city owns.
The land bank also is double-checking its properties on the site. Despite having 489 of their 572 empty lots pre-loaded onto the website, or more than 85% of their portfolio in Akron, Summit County Land Bank Executive Director Patrick Bravo said his staff will need the rest of February to ensure properties that the city published haven’t already been sold.
Once the hiccups are sorted out, the new tool promises to help developers, builders and families with the menu of programs offered by the two agencies, and filter for properties that fall under each program’s unique guidelines.
Each agency’s programs strive to revitalize vacant property. Some overlap more than others.
Akron’s Lot for a Little program, created with the onset of the Great Recession to sell discounted empty lots to local residents, and its Mow to Own program, launched in 2020 to give free vacant lots to neighbors who cut the grass all summer, are similar to the land bank’s Side Lot program. The land bank’s initiative launched in 2015 after three years of aggressive demolition left the newly created land bank with a surplus of empty residential lots.
The city’s newest program includes 46 empty lots under the Welcome Home Akron banner.