Community development veteran takes reins of once-troubled city land bank

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Bruce Baird, the longtime director of the Indianapolis Housing Agency’s development arm, is leaving to lead the Renew Indianapolis land bank.

bruce baird mugBruce Baird

Baird, 54, will start his new job Jan. 3. He takes over for Katy Renn, who came to the once-troubled agency in 2013 as it transitioned from a city entity to a not-for-profit after its former director was charged with wire fraud and bribery.

“Renew has done excellent work in the past few years,” Baird said. “I see this as an opportunity to grow Renew into a vibrant organization.”

Reggie Walton was found guilty on eight charges by a jury in late 2015 and sentenced to nine years in a federal prison. The charges stemmed from a scheme in which he received kickbacks for fraudulently directing the sale of abandoned or tax-delinquent properties.

Renn, formerly Katy Brett, left Renew Indianapolis earlier this month after marrying Aaron Renn, an urban policy analyst who publishes the popular Urbanophile blog, and moving to New York City.

Under her leadership, the not-for-profit last year sold 90 lots or homes and demolished more than 70 additional houses by leveraging Federal Hardest Hit Funds. With $3.5 million still available, the city plans to expand on that next year, said Brent Pierce, the Department of Metropolitan Development’s administrator for real estate and economic development. Pierce also is a Renew Indianapolis board member.

“We would like to demolish 365 homes next year,” he said, “and ideally, those would be in areas that the mayor has identified as the most blighted.”

The aim of Renew Indianapolis is to return vacant and tax-delinquent properties to the city’s tax rolls. Most properties it purchases have twice gone through tax sales—where the public can purchase properties by paying the amount of taxes owed—without attracting a buyer.

Renew Indianapolis typically prices the properties no higher than $3,500 and takes a fee of $500 to $1,000 on each sale. The city takes the rest to cover mowing and other expenses related to the upkeep of abandoned properties.

The not-for-profit has 900 properties in its portfolio and plans to shed those not in areas Mayor Joseph Hogsett has identified as the most blighted by auctioning them off. The strategy is to “right-size” Renew Indianapolis and to keep clusters of homes in areas the city has targeted for redevelopment, Pierce said.

Baird’s 25 years of community economic development experience helped land him the job. He spent the 1990s at the now-defunct Eastside Community Investments. In 2000, he joined Mayor Bart Peterson’s administration as Neighborhood Services Division administrator, and later became the city’s housing development administrator.

Baird joined IHA in 2005 and started leading Insight Development Corp. in 2007. Insight was established in 1999 to support IHA’s mission by expanding the supply and quality of affordable housing in Marion County.

Since its inception, Insight has served as sole developer or co-developer on 721 affordable units, 78 market units and 52 homeownership units totaling $250 million.

Its largest projects include the $24 million Millikan on Mass development, lining Massachusetts Avenue and East Michigan Street across from the Athenaeum. Completed last December, it includes 64 new market-rate apartments and 61 affordable units, in addition to 20,000 square feet of retail space.

Another is 16 Park, the $34 million, 11-building project along 16th Street between Central and College avenues.

For the Renew Indianapolis opening, the city received interest from nearly 25 applicants. Directors of Renew narrowed the selection process to six before choosing Baird.

“Twenty-five-plus years in community development speaks for itself,” Pierce said. “We’re excited about Bruce coming on board.”

IHA, meanwhile, has not yet selected a replacement for Baird. But Baird said he would be involved in the process to ensure a seamless transition.

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