The Portage County Land Bank, a non-profit entity that seeks to return vacant and blighted land to productive use, recently earned an additional $250,000 in grant funding to support that work in the county from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

The funds are part of the state agency's Neighborhood Initiative Program, which utilizes federal funding from a bank settlement reached after the housing bubble burst in 2008. The program is aimed at stabilizing property values and preventing future foreclosures.

In order to receive funding, land banks compete with other land banks to demonstrate both the need for blight removal in their local community and a track record of success in utilizing prior funding.

Portage County's land bank was the state's top-performing land bank as percentage of funds used from prior allocations, and is one of only four land banks in Ohio to receive additional funding in the latest round of grants. The new money brings the total allocation of state and federal dollars to Portage County through the Land Bank to more than $1.5 million since the Land Bank's founding in 2012.

"We are tremendously proud of the record of success we have achieved, and look forward to utilizing these funds to further our mission of stabilizing and improving property values in our county," said County Commissioner and land bank Chairwoman Vicki Kline.

The land bank must "use or lose" the funds by the end of the year. County Treasurer Brad Cromes, land bank vice chairman, has taken on the task of identifying vacant, blighted, and tax delinquent lands eligible for the program.

"We have developed great partnerships with our local political subdivisions to identify 'high-need' properties," Cromes said. "In the days ahead, we will be reaching out to our partners again to make sure we take full advantage of this opportunity."

The land bank also relies on the public to help identify potential blight hot spots, said Dave Vaughan, executive director of Neighborhood Development Services, Inc. and the land bank's administrator.

"We can't be everywhere at once," Vaughan said. "Often, it's the people who live next to problem properties who identify them for us, and we welcome that feedback."

Residents looking to notify the land bank of potential blight in their neighborhoods are encouraged to do so by calling 330-297-6400, ext. 214, or by using the delinquent property request form on the land bank's website,