Ind. plans $75M push to demolish abandoned homes

INDIANAPOLIS - A $75 million federal grant to demolish thousands of blighted houses will make a "small dent" in the number of abandoned properties plaguing Indiana, state officials said Monday.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and housing leaders said knocking down blighted and abandoned homes will help maintain property values and reduce crime.

The money comes from the Hardest Hit Fund, which also is used to help unemployed or low-income homeowners keep their houses.

Officials estimate about 4,000 of the state's more than 50,000 abandoned homes will be flattened but concede that represents only a dent in efforts to clean up affected cities.

"It's a very, very large problem, particularly in larger municipalities," said Mark Neyland, director of asset preservation for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. "If we really wanted to, we could probably find 4,000 homes just within the Marion County area to be demolished."

RealtyTrac reports that about a third of Indiana's foreclosed houses are abandoned. That's one of the highest percentages in the country.

Indianapolis also was ranked among the top 20 metro areas with the highest number of abandoned homes last year.  State officials say there are about 10,000 to 12,000 blighted and abandoned homes in the city.

Cities and counties can apply for a portion of the grant starting this month. Preference will be given to municipalities with plans for the properties after demolition, places riddled with former methamphetamine labs and areas where programs to deal with abandoned housing already are in place.

Money will go to both urban and rural areas, where grants could yield greater results. In those areas, Neyland said, a few demolitions could make a greater difference in neighborhood quality.

Only about 20 homes in Lawrence are uninhabitable and abandoned, Mayor Dean Jessup said. Grant money from another program is funding demolitions of three abandoned homes that burned to the ground, and a former hotel that had become a hub of prostitution and drugs is another site the city hopes to redevelop, he said.

"Many of things in that neighborhood are not, shall we say, beautiful anymore," Jessup said. "We see an opportunity there."

State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who co-authored a bill to speed the sale of abandoned or vacant properties, praised the grant program.

"Sometimes to have rebirth of a community, you've got to tear it down," Merritt said during the program announcement.

The Senate is set to review Merritt's legislation Monday.

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