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April 7, 2012

Ridding the city of blight

Mayor Ted Franklin has gotten off to a strong start in his bid to rid the city of eyesores.

Logansport had 78 properties on its condemned list when Franklin took office in January.

His brother, George, the city’s former code enforcement officer, and Deb O’Connor, its acting building commissioner, spent weeks traveling around the city, checking out those structures. They contacted the owners and set up an improvement plan for 18 of them. They also added 14 new properties to the list.

So, the condemned list now stands at 74, and the city is looking for money to demolish many of the structures. Right now, it has a budget of $50,000.

Franklin says he has been searching through the budget for more money. He has a long way to go.

The city of Peru announced last month it would spend about $250,000 to demolish 22 derelict houses. As it stands, Logansport has more than three times that many dilapidated houses and only a fifth of the money.

Using the traditional approach to demolition, the city says, would cost $10,000 to $12,000 per structure, an amount that would add up to more than $750,000 for all of the houses on the list.

A local deconstruction company says it will tackle some of the homes for about half the cost.

The city might also save some money by using street department crews for some of the work.

The good news is that city officials can go after property owners to cover the expense. The bad news is those efforts will often come up empty as many of the properties wind up in tax sales.

Still, Franklin is right when he says the city’s efforts to spruce up local neighborhoods will pay dividends. The more problem properties the city eliminates, the more value it will bring to neighboring homes and the more pride people will take in their own houses.

“This is contagious,” he said last month. “When we clean up a property, the neighbors start cleaning up.”

And not all of the properties will have to be torn down.

Some are clearly beyond hope. They have deteriorated to the point where they’ll never be saved.

Others, though, can and should be restored.

The city’s best hope is to find property owners willing to take on these projects.

Many of the houses have historic significance that would qualify them for state and federal tax credits. The city might also be able to find grants that would help to provide incentives for individuals willing to take on such projects.

Urban homestead programs that allow individuals to take over abandoned properties and restore them have been successful in many communities.

Even in many of the houses that can’t be saved, there are architectural elements that ought to be preserved.

Historic preservation groups and other organizations such as Habitat for Humanity have had success in some cities setting up warehouses where such elements can be sold to people working to restore old houses, and the proceeds from those sales help to support the organizations and their missions.

And so the city should push ahead with a mixed approach to these eyesores.

It should continue putting the heat on existing property owners to develop plans for their deteriorating structures. It should look for funding to encourage those folks and others to move ahead with restoration efforts.

It should spread the word about the incentives already available from the state and federal government.

And it should, as a last resort, move to tear down the structures that can’t be saved.

• Kelly Hawes is managing editor of the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5155 or kelly.hawes@pharostribune.com.

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