Last edited 4:54 p.m., Feb. 1, 2023
Restore SGF Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit geared toward restoring older homes that are deteriorating in Springfield while increasing homeownership, formed a board of directors at the start of the year.
Richard Ollis, founding member of Restore SGF, Springfield City councilperson and an owner of Ollis/Akers/Arney insurance agency, said there is currently a housing study commissioned by the city to be completed in late third quarter. Ollis said more details on specific neighborhoods targeted and which projects need to be funded are still pending.
Some of the potential historic neighborhoods are north of Chestnut Expressway and include Grant Beach, Midtown, West Central and Woodland Heights, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. As the Restore SGF board sets its goals, including the priority neighborhoods, organizers say there are several avenues they’ve either already tapped into or might provide some future possibilities.
One of those ideas is a land bank agency in the city, Ollis said. A land bank agency is a locally formed body that acquires dilapidated, vacant or tax-delinquent properties with the intent of returning them to productive uses.
“This will help us accomplish our goal mission of promoting homeownership and rehabilitating housing in our historic neighborhoods,” he said.
According to the latest five-year estimate data from the Census Bureau, the owner-occupied housing unit rate was 42.9% in 2021, compared with a national average of 64.6%.
Currently, land bank agencies cannot be formed in the city of Springfield, but Missouri Rep. Bill Owen, R-Springfield, proposed House Bill 587 on Jan. 4, allowing cities like Springfield and of similar size to establish a land bank agency.
Owen is no stranger to land bank legislation. The former banker proposed a similar bill, HB 563, in 2021 that passed the house but stalled in the Senate.
“We’ve been spending the last three years trying to look at how we could do a more comprehensive approach,” said Owen, a founding members of Restore SGF who worked in banking for 40 years in Springfield and was part of the now defunct Urban Neighborhoods Alliance. “One issue was the need for a land bank. A lot of times we get property back and the city, like in a tax sale, they’ll just turn around and sell it for whatever is owed. They’ll just put out a figure and the first person that shows up with certified funds gets it.”
With a land bank agency, applicants looking to buy a property would be vetted, much like they would with a bank mortgage loan, so Owen said it would be easier to determine whether a buyer is actually going to have the funds to fix up the property and take care of it long term.
Land banks already function in other cities and states. According to the Center for Community Progress, there are currently over 250 land banks in 17 states, including the Missouri cities of St. Louis, Kansas City and Blue Springs.
Even if the land bank legislation passes through the Missouri House and Senate, and the city of Springfield establishes a land bank agency, Owen said this isn’t an across-the-board solution. Each property could have varying circumstances attached to it.
“It’s just one tool in the toolbox,” he said. “This is not a panacea by any stretch of the imagination. This is primarily where you have properties that are derelict that the city goes and acquires and takes them away, or it’s people who are behind on their taxes. And usually if they’re behind on their taxes, they have other issues and there’s probably clouds on the title, maybe liens of some sort.”
Restore SGF already has worked on financial solutions that it can act on, regardless of the proposed legislation, specifically acquiring matching pledges from area financial institutions.
Arvest, Commerce, Great Southern, Guaranty, OakStar, Old Missouri and Legacy banks have committed $10,000 apiece annually over a three-year span to Restore SGF; and Central Bank has pledged $20,000 each year for three years. Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc. has pledged $20,000 annually for five years. These pledges act as matching grants that homebuyers can put forward to restore the properties, Ollis said.
Additionally, Central, Great Southern and Legacy banks each have committed to a $250,000 loan fund and CFO a $500,000 loan fund. These loan funds are revolving, so the funds that are spent will be returned and reinvested on a rotating basis. Ollis said the fund will be used to buy and resell properties as determined by the Restore SGF board.
How the loan funds are going to be utilized is still to be determined, as Restore SGF is waiting on the housing study to come back, Ollis said.
“It is going to be a fund that we will reinvest in projects with the ultimate goal of recouping that money to reinvest again,” he said. “It could be used for any number of purposes, such as we could buy property, have a contractor fix it up and resell it. We could loan the money to a homeowner or investor for that same purpose.”
Andrea Brady, community outreach and development director at Great Southern Bank and one of the members appointed to the Restore SGF Board, said community banks are interested in taking a financial role in fixing up Springfield.
“All of the financial institutions who have pledged funds have a vested interest in helping revitalize areas within those communities where we reside and where we serve,” Brady said. “Restore SGF is of great interest to all financial institutions. The actual vision of Restore SGF is to improve housing conditions and raise residential property values in Springfield neighborhoods and strengthen them.”
Other inaugural members of the Restore SGF board are Joselyn Baldner, president and CEO of Central Bank in Springfield; Amy Blansit, CEO of the Drew Lewis Foundation; Adrianna Bruening, real estate agent with Southwest Missouri Realty; Andrew Doolittle, developer, broker and investor with Everett Homes; John Everett, CEO of Legacy Bank & Trust Co.; Brian Fogle, president of CFO; Heather Hardinger and Ollis, City Council members; Becky Volz, the city’s Neighborhood Advisory Council chair; and Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association.
Brady said the board members from financial institutions can help with financial guidance, but the variety of backgrounds can aid in the overall mission.
“You bring all these people from different backgrounds with different experiences together, but ultimately we all have one goal, to increase the vitality of our city, homeownership and strengthen our community,” she said.
Element Springfield South opened; Outlaw Gentlemen Barbershop added a second location; and wellness studio Stretch Zone launched.