Gary officials hope demolition in key blocks will trigger neighborhood rebirth
By Christin Nance Lazerus firstname.lastname@example.org May 27, 2014 10:42PM
This house, as well as others in the 300 block of Buchanan Street in Gary have been marked for razing. | Christisn Nance Lazerus~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2014 6:12AM
GARY — Hundreds of abandoned houses will be torn down across the city over the next 18 months with $6.6 million in Hardest Hit Funds the city received last week from the state.
Gary officials outlined the areas and process that will guide the planned demolition of at least 379 homes in a Tuesday afternoon news conference at City Hall.
Chief of Staff Richard Leverett said those properties were earmarked on the city’s application to the state, but the number could be as high as 500 depending on the cost of demolition.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the funds are a huge opportunity.
“We’ve given thought to where want to use the money,” Freeman Wilson said. “We want to excite residents but also manage expectations. This is not just a chance to eliminate blight, but to rebuild and redevelop this community.”
The 5th District — which encompasses Black Oak, northern Glen Park and parts of Midtown — has the largest number homes on the list with 103. Freeman-Wilson has identified the area around Indiana University Northwest — dubbed University Park — as a prime candidate for redevelopment efforts.
Graduate students from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy are surveying 20,000 parcels in the city. The Legacy Foundation, the Fuller Center for Housing of Gary, the Delta Institute, Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College also supported and assisted with the application.
Redevelopment Director Joe Van Dyk said about two-thirds of the properties surveyed so far are in pretty bad shape — rating a C, D or F on the surveys.
“Blight is very contagious, so if we can eliminate one or two abandoned properties on an otherwise healthy block, we can dissuade the behavior,” he said.
The city also identified properties from its work with partners helping stabilize neighborhoods. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is working with the city on efforts in the Aetna, Miller, Glen Ryan and Emerson areas, while Habitat for Humanity and the Broadway Community Development Corp. are active in the Horace Mann neighborhood.
Leverett said a public hearing will be conducted on the Hardest Hit Fund efforts within the next 30 days, and properties that have been identified will go through an appeals process with the city.
Once the properties are demolished, the land will be available for a variety of purposes — from side yards available for private purchase to green spaces for community gardens.
Gary’s director of green urbanism and environmental affairs, Brenda Scott-Henry, said a prime example is Sojourner Truth House, which is looking to expand its footprint in Gary’s Midtown area.
With an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 abandoned homes in the city, Freeman-Wilson acknowledged that the planned demolition is just a start to the process of revitalizing the city.
“Even if we get to demolish 500 houses that’s not a large percentage,” she said. “What this does, it gives us a start. We’re targeting neighborhoods where, if we take away one or two homes, it will stabilize property values and set the stage to go to the next level. It allows us to set the stage for the rebirth and redevelopment of the city.”