Lake sheriff to push to demolish Gary’s vacant homes
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS email@example.com September 19, 2013 8:42PM
These abandoned homes are on 19th Avenue, just south of Central Avenue. | Carole Carlson/ Post-Tribune
Updated: October 21, 2013 2:23PM
GARY — In an effort to stem the tide of violent crime in Gary, Lake County officials are requesting assistance from the Indiana National Guard to demolish thousands of abandoned buildings.
Lake County Sheriff John Buncich sent a letter to Gov. Mike Pence this week about the city’s requests to beef up law enforcement presence with help from the Indiana State Police.
It was just the latest revival of an idea that has been floated and tried before.
In 1997, Richard Ligon commanded an engineer battalion in the Indiana National Guard that demolished abandoned buildings that were a hive of drug activity.
“We were able to get ($2.3 million) funding through Rep. Pete Visclosky for a counter-drug program,” Ligon said. “We were able to hire soldiers full-time do nothing but demolish home. We tore down homes that were about to fall and used dump trucks to haul them away.”
In July, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson asked the state to deploy Indiana State Police officers to the city to deal with a rising homicide rate, and Pence’s office is considering the plan. Buncich said a major step in fighting crime would be to demolish buildings that serve as a magnet for criminal activity.
“Those abandoned buildings do nothing but help increase crime within these neighborhoods In many cases vacant properties are used for illicit gang and drug activities, and are also a danger to the residents within these neighborhoods,” Buncich wrote in the letter. “I emphasized to your panel in my opinion, one major step to help fight crime in the City of Gary, short of additional State Police deployment, would be to demolish and eradicate many of these abandoned dwellings.”
The city estimates it has nearly 10,000 abandoned homes, and the problem is particularly acute in the Midtown, Aetna and Glen Park neighborhoods, Buncich said.
Funding is a definite stumbling block with any demolition project, Ligon said. When Ligon worked as Gary’s public safety director last year, he spoke to Visclosky about obtaining funding for the demolition, but the sequestration process made that request next to impossible.
“If there were soldiers who would volunteer, they would not get paid but they could get retirement points,” Ligon said. “A bucket loader, volunteers, and dump trucks are really all you need. It might work if a unit can relate it to a training exercise.”
Freeman-Wilson said she had a conversation with Indiana National Guard Adjutant General Michael Umbarger about demolition in July. She said it should be part of a layered approach to get a handle on the city’s crime problem.
“I’m fully on board with the sheriff’s request,” Freeman-Wilson said. “It gives us a better opportunity to serve neighborhoods and look at all of these factors.”
No funding source has been identified at this time to raze Gary’s blighted buildings, but Buncich hopes Pence will consider the plan and help find the money and resources.
The city has been doing the paperwork necessary to raze the structures, but does not have the funds or heavy equipment needed to demolish a significant number of buildings.
“A lot of the homes are ready to go,” Buncich said.