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New Gary homeowners love dollar home

SylviWillis stands outside her new 'dollar' home Tuesday Glen Park. She husbMiltWillis were first home recipients new Gary program. |

Sylvia Willis stands outside her new "dollar" home Tuesday in Glen Park. She and husband, Milton Willis, were the first home recipients in a new Gary program. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune

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Gary’s Dollar Home program

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Contact the Community Development Department at 881-5075.

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Updated: December 25, 2013 6:07PM

GARY — When Sylvia Willis walked in to inspect the modest brick bungalow in Glen Park, she knew it was the one.

“My heart leaped. There was just something about it, just a warmth,” she said of the small home in the 3600 block of Fillmore Street.

Sylvia and her husband, Milton Willis, are the new owners of the home they purchased in the city’s Dollar House program.

“We launched it in a pilot form in a small fashion... so we could look at the results and get the kinks out of the program,” said Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson at a Tuesday press conference.

More than 400 people picked up applications to own a house for $1 in the program announced last spring. Twelve city-owned houses, in various stages of disrepair, made up the pilot launch. About 25 people submitted applications.

Community Development Director Arlene Colvin said six people participated in a Dec. 13 lottery for seven houses. Five accepted homes and one elected to wait until the next round in 2014.

The new homeowners must bring the property up to city code within six months, pay taxes and insure it. Participants had to be Gary residents, and not current homeowners. They must have $1,000 in savings, meet 80 percent of area median income standards and agree to live in the home.

Freeman-Wilson said some complained the requirements were too stringent.

“We want people who are in this for the long haul, people who can grow and rejuvenate with us,” she said. “Milton and Sylvia really epitomize people who can stay in city and have stake in it.”

Sylvia Willis said she works as a customer service representative and her husband works part-time in security at a local hospital. The couple, who live in an apartment in Miller, met through a friend and have been married five years. Between them, they have seven adult children.

“I really support everyone involved in their effort to revitalize the city of Gary,” said Sylvia Willis. “I’ve lived here all my life. We are so very excited... This is our very first home.”

The Willis’s estimate the home needs about $30,000 in renovation work. Its kitchen was gutted. Milton Willis said he likes the basement, which he envisions as his new workout area.

“It’s amazing, this is the very house we wanted. This program will help people see Gary in another light,” said Milton Willis.

Freeman-Wilson estimated the city has about 10,000 abandoned homes like the one Sylvia and Milton Willis will soon move into. She hopes to find non-profit partner and eventually sell 50 to 100 houses a year.

The mayor herself purchased a dollar home about 25 years ago under a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program.

“We refinished the floors and peeled the paint off the walls. It took four to five months and I stayed in the house more than five years. I still own it. It helped me re-engage in the community and encouraged me to stay in Gary,” she said.

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