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City ready to take down 1,100 abandoned homes

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With the sale of its water and sewer utilities cleared by regulators, the city of Indianapolis is preparing to deploy $15 million to $25 million in funds from the deal into tearing down abandoned houses.

The city has selected a contractor to help administer a massive effort to demolish about 2,000 vacant homes by the end of 2012. City officials wouldn’t disclose the name of the company before its contract with the city is signed.

About 1,100 of the houses, which are spread across Marion County and have been identified as structurally deficient, have gone through the lengthy legal processes required before the city can tear them down.

Once paperwork from the utility sale to Citizens Energy Group is completed—estimated to be in about six weeks—the city will start taking bids on demolition for dozens of properties per week, said Reggie Walton, abandoned buildings administrator for the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development. He estimates 300 to 500 houses will be demolished by the end of this year.

“We’ve been in hurry-up-and-wait mode while we’re waiting for this money,” Walton said.

The money from the utility sale—about $425 million in total—comes from a couple of different sources. Last spring, the City-County Council approved a measure to issue about $153 million in bonds to pay for upgrades to roads, bridges and sidewalks, many of which have been taking place around Indianapolis. Those bonds will be covered by payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, that the sewer utility makes to the city and which are expected to increase in coming years.

But the city’s receipt of the remainder of the money was contingent upon the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission's approving the sale of the water and sewer utilities to Citizens Energy Group, a public charitable trust. That approval came Wednesday.

Mayor Greg Ballard said in an interview that the majority of the remaining proceeds from the deal would go toward infrastructure projects. But a big chunk will go toward addressing abandoned houses, and some also will go toward a few other initiatives. Ballard declined to say what those initiatives will be or how much will be allocated for them.

By pre-qualifying bidders, the city can conduct 50 to 100 demolitions per week to get through the pile of properties, Walton said.

The DMD earlier this year brought on an additional administrative law judge to get through the legal processes, which include mandatory time periods to allow  property owners to remediate structural shortcomings to avoid demolition.

Those legal processes will continue with the remaining 900 homes the city intends to demolish.

Walton said while demolition isn’t desirable with every abandoned house, it can spur interest in redeveloping the properties and eliminate neighborhood blight.

“Sometimes you have to wipe the slate clean to get someone interested in doing something new with the property,” Walton said.

The city owns about 60 of the 1,100 properties first to be demolished. Some of those will be converted into urban gardens or pocket parks, and others could be enclosed with fences to keep looters off the property.

The rest are owned by the original owners or have gone through tax sale and are eligible to become city-county property. The city will work with adjacent homeowners and not-for-profit developers to find uses for those parcels.

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  • Liberty????
    Yet another banal buzzword...If a person CHOOSES not to futher his education and cannot find a job that pays a LIVING wage (fast food, janitorial, lawn care, child care, cashiers, etc.) all those jobs that are NECESSARY to the country but are VASTLY UNDERPAID, it is THEIR RIGHT to do so. Everyone is NOT going to be rich. Every business owner IS NOT a millionaire. Progressives are not the cause of poor people. Get a clue!!!
  • URBAN FARMING
    The new wave will be urban farming. Providing space for growing fresh vegetables will help stave off increasing food prices and encourage "eating local". I'm all for this. Since most lots have water already in place, perhaps the city can lease smaller plots on the larger lots for individuals to grow food, like they do in Europe...
  • Quite a bill.
    I just can't believe that it will cost us $13,636.66 on the low end to tear down each house. That is insane. I tore down and disposed of a two story house on a plot I own for less than $6,000.

    Crazy.
  • Where's the Beef?
    The link on the other news site only lists about 900 properties.
  • Deconstruction?
    Muncie is going through the same thing right now, but the city awarded some of the contracts to deconstruction businesses. This is really a growing industry that can keep a lot of resources out of the dump and a lot of money circulating locally when people buy used materials rather than new ones from the big box home improvement stores. http://www.bmra.org/events/conference/conference-presentations/316-decon-11-session-5-decon-a-community-development-i
  • The list is public
    The list has been made public. WISH TV has a link to a PDF of the list in the article on its website.
  • I support the Mayor
    All salvageable homes that can be renovated are purchased in the tax sales. Many of the remaining properties that slated for demolition are burnt out homes that never saw the use of the insurance money that the prior owner collected. Others are barely standing and have major structural issues that would be cost prohibitive to rehab. The Mayor is doing the right thing in bulldozing them. But let's not throw in the towel on "working class" Indianapolis neighborhoods. A sizable number of Indianapolis residents/employees are working class and need affordable housing. Not all areas will gentrify, nor should they. Working class people should have nice homes and neighborhoods to live in. Nice does not always mean 2,000+ square feet either. All of my tenants work at entry level jobs- Walmart, McDonalds, cooks in hospitals, etc. and they deserve nice homes/duplexes in urban areas. I renovate all of my properties from top to bottom, both structurally and cosmetically, and welcome having nearby vacant, dilapidated, arson-struck homes torn down and grass planted in their place. My tenants do too.
  • architectural significance
    trust me, the number of historic homes with architectural integrity is very small compared to those that will be torn down. true, if you look at the central part of indianapolis, there is a lot of homes with historical significance.... but those are not the ones the city is talking about here. the historic preservation society would never demolish true landmarks. the ones that will be demolished are the houses that were never meant to last more than 30 years. some of these homes are built on wood foundations and just need to go. it's good that the city is stepping in to do this. america is one of the only countries where this kind upkeep is shoved off onto the people... so we should be happy to have some help in eliminating these eyesores here.
  • What's on the list?
    No one knows what's going to be torn down. The list isn't public - this is Reggie's pet project. Neighborhoods have had no input.

    What we'll get is a massive, secret, Goldsmith-style demolition spree to make it look like the mayor's done something to address the issue of abandoned houses. For 3 1/2 years he's done nothing, aside from a few camera-ready PR hits.

    And I particularly love the secret contractor to grease the skids. My money's on American Structurepoint.

    If the Mayor really thinks these lots will be redeveloped, he's imagining things. Let's go look at all the lots still vacant from demolitions over the past 30 years. Outside of Fall Creek Place and the downtown historic districts, in-fill construction is virtually non-existent. And the sidelot sales program has closed about a dozen sales in its history.

    Urban neighborhoods: be prepared for more overgrown vacant lots courtesy of Mayor Ballard. It seems the best he can do is give us yesterday's answers to today's problems.
  • IPS
    I agree that IPS is a major issue for Indianapolis, but I'll suggest that it's not the quality of facilities, availability of resources, the aspirations of our teachers, the issue of the bloated administration, or even the antiquated concept of a local school board. It's really about the expectations of the parents and the ambitions of the students. Certainly not all of them as some great people have graduated from IPS, it's just an unfortunate majority with low expectations. This problem is solved by the influx of young professional and people who demand higher contributions and efforts of the people around them and most importantly from their children. The influence of positive role models can improve our city's educational impediment and those many related issues.
  • progressivism is what got us here
    sb - The creation of an entitlement society by progressives is what created the vast ghetto in marion county. What we really need to try is personal responsibility and liberty.
    • Schools are the real problem
      Until the Indianapolis School system improves, you will not an influx of young professionals into the city areas to buy homes and improve these neighborhoods.
      • More demolition?
        I agree with sb. We need to restore the integrity of our neighborhoods, not diminish them. This is the easy way out, and the City is completely missing an opportunity to bring back an area with a much larger investment. This would generate greater tax revenues for the City to spend on additional improvements. Vacant lots filled with weeds rarely do so. Fall Creek Place was a concentrated redevelopment project, with millions in federal funds and local dollars poured into it. Let's face it: we've tried this redevelopment strategy before. It's called "urban renewal", and it failed.
      • Tear them down!
        Some historic houses are definitely worth saving, and I’m sad to say Indy has already lost most of its’ beautiful historic structures, such as the County Building or the Emrichsville Bridge. But Fall Creek Place could not have happened had 80% of that property not been cleared away. Those working class neighborhoods need cleaned out, such as the Riverside area and the entire Southside. We have historic districts for a reason. Let’s save those structures most worth saving, those random other structures should be salvaged for parts (check out White River Salvage), then we should clear large swaths of the inner city for redevelopment. We can keep the urban feel, street grids, and the trees, but replace the housing stock. If there’s a problem with this program, it’s that it’s not aggressive enough. Nero was right! Let it burn!!!
      • "Old" does not mean Historic
        I'm sorry, SB, but I'm betting few of these houses are worth saving for their "historic value." I'm all for saving historic structures, but "Old" does not equate to "historic." If these are such great houses, why have most been sitting vacant for so long. (Obviously, I don't know what houses are on the list, but I'm sure it's pretty easy to pick out the ones that are being targeted).
      • ridiculous
        "Structurally deficient" may mean it needs roof repair or the gutter is falling off or any number of trivial repairs are needed. Some really great, solid historic homes are being torn down. The result is a further degraded neighborhood with even less to offer than it had before! Indy needs to improve it's tax base by working to improve neighborhoods, reviving the neighborhood business districts so that each can fluorish again and be filled with homeowners. Instead they demolish assets. Get with the program Indy - try being progressive - suburban living is not a sustainable model.

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