Land Grab 

Land bank offers free property to nonprofits.

In its heyday, the 100-year-old blue and white building at the corner of Carnes and Marcheneil in Orange Mound served as a neighborhood barbershop, which backed up to a lively juke joint. Today, after years of falling into disrepair, the structure has been reborn as the Landmark Food Pantry.

Orange Mound residents in need can fill their pantries with the canned goods, snack foods, and occasional frozen pizzas offered at Landmark. That's thanks to Landmark Training Development Company owner Mike Minnis and the Shelby County Land Bank.

Taking advantage of a state law that allows the land bank to donate county-owned property to nonprofits, Minnis obtained and rehabbed the structure at 2489 Carnes. He also acquired from the land bank two vacant lots abutting the food pantry to use as community gardens.

The Shelby County Land Bank currently has a stock of 3,700 properties, and it's aggressively trying to clear them out to nonprofits for free or individual buyers for cheap rates. Of those properties, most are vacant lots, but about 225 include homes, condos, duplexes, and commercial buildings.

"We inventory property every quarter, and we try to keep a manageable number. But due to the aggressive tax sale of our new trustee, we're getting more and more properties. We don't want to get behind," said Dawn Kinard, deputy administrator of the Shelby County Land Bank.

When a property owner is delinquent on their taxes, the properties are scheduled for a county tax sale. The owner has a 12-month redemption period to pay the taxes and redeem the property. But if they fail to do so, the property is sold at a tax sale. If a private buyer fails to purchase it, it goes to the Shelby County Land Bank.

Kinard said state law changed a few years ago to allow nonprofits to acquire the land bank's properties for free. Since then, they've been trying to get the word out to charities throughout the county.

"Nonprofits can request anything that's in our inventory," Kinard said. "We have given commercial buildings that they have rehabbed into food pantries and clothes closets and after-school programs."

Minnis said the land bank has been an invaluable resource for the Landmark Training Development Company, which besides operating a food pantry and community gardens also trains ex-offenders and troubled youth with construction skills. They also operate a thrift store on Carnes.

"If you're a nonprofit, you can get a property that may need $5,000 in repairs. But when you're done with those repairs, you have something worth $20,000 or $30,000. You can't get that type of return in the stock market," Minnis said.

Nonprofits must be registered with the state and in good standing, and they have to present a plan for the property and a timeframe for when that plan will take place.

Private buyers can also obtain property from the land bank, and although it's not free, it is offered at bargain rates. Some properties that have been in the inventory for a long time are offered at clearance rates, and last month, the land bank began listing those sales online. Vacant lots and even some houses are offered for as little as $500 to $2,000.

Minnis believes everyone should take advantage of the land bank's offerings to further the county's economic growth: "If massive amounts of Memphians started obtaining property from the Shelby County Land Bank, they would put lumber companies and drywall companies to work, as well as carpenters and electricians."

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