Funding will allow demolition of more abandoned buildings
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS Post-Tribune correspondent February 27, 2014 4:08PM
These abandoned homes are on 19th Avenue, just south of Central Avenue, in Gary. The city has enough money to tear down fewer than 100 abandoned buildings a year, but a new grant program will change that. | Carole Carlson/Post-Tribune
Updated: April 1, 2014 6:03AM
GARY — Faced with more than 10,000 abandoned homes, Gary officials have tried to tear down many blighted structures.
But they have been limited to demolishing fewer than 100 a year, simply because that’s all they can afford.
A new state program may allow the city and other municipalities to make a bigger dent in the problem of abandoned buildings — a problem that attracts crime, lowers property values and decreases quality of life throughout the state.
Indiana leads the nation in foreclosed homes that are abandoned — at a rate of 30 percent. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Treasury approved $75 million for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Administration’s Blight Elimination Program, which uses money from the Hardest Hit Fund to assist in foreclosure prevention.
The community development administration estimates around 4,000 structures will be demolished through the program. Indiana counties have been grouped into regions, with about $16 million earmarked for Lake and Marion counties. Officials in those counties have until March 17 to apply for funds. Projects will be announced April 24.
Porter and LaPorte counties are part of a 12-county region that has been allocated $19.8 million; its application deadline is May 19, with awards announced on June 26.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the fund would really help Gary do some demolition in areas where the city has redevelopment plans, like Northside Development Corridor and University Park near Indiana University Northwest. Freeman-Wilson said it also would be helpful near current projects such as the permanent supportive housing near Sojourner Truth House.
“We want to have those projects without blight around them,” Freeman-Wilson said. “The challenge we have is that we have blighted buildings all over the city.”
Freeman-Wilson said it’s not the only tool the city has to eliminate blight, as it is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on spurring economic growth in the Emerson, Miller and Horace Mann areas and working with the state on possibly bringing a trauma center/teaching hospital to the University Park area.
“These efforts not only spur demolition, but they also give us the opportunity of reconstruction, which means we can provide jobs, teach skills and recycle some of the materials,” she said.
Communities must fill out a site evaluation matrix that takes into account several factors, including habitability, location, public safety calls and property tax status. Because of the short application window, communities must own the properties they are seeking to demolish.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland said all communities struggle with blight, it’s just a matter of degree.
“That’s why it’s applied across the whole state,” Copeland said. “Every city is dealing with the problem in some shape or form.”
Copeland said the city’s application will target 60 structures in the city, mostly in the Calumet neighborhood, currently home to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site due to lead contamination in the soil.
“We know it’s scheduled for cleanup through the EPA,” Copeland said. “We thought razing properties in that area would allow them to do a more thorough job. It would pay dividends and there would be more projects we could do because there wouldn’t be any existing legacy issues.”
East Chicago has identified 712 problem properties, with about 80 percent of them requiring demolition, but local funds have only allowed them to tear down about 60 annually.
“This problem has developed over a long period of time,” Copeland said. “These are areas where there hasn’t been investment in 20 or 30 years, and when the bottom fell out of the housing market, they lost even more value. It’s a perfect storm and the No. 1 problem for a lot of cities. We’re hoping with the funds that we’ll be able to put a large dent in the problem.”