INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana plans to spend $75 million to tear down thousands of abandoned homes. For cash-strapped communities, the program aims to help wipe out blight from neighborhoods plagued by plummeting property values and rising crime.
The money targets the “worst of the worst” properties — vacant houses that have become eyesores and have no chance of being reclaimed — in communities of all sizes.
Indiana is only the third state to tap a blight-elimination program that uses money originally set aside by the U.S. Treasury Department for mortgage relief. Unlike Michigan and Ohio, which used funds for large-scale demolitions in big cities, Indiana officials will divide up the money across the state.
“We know abandoned homes are a poison in every community,” said state Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who helped push for the program.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann announced the program Monday. During a “listening” tour that took her to every county last year, leaders throughout the state identified abandoned homes as one of their most difficult obstacles, she said.
“Unfortunately, Indiana has the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of abandoned foreclosed homes in the country,” Ellspermann said.
State officials said about 30 percent of foreclosed homes have been left to deteriorate. That equates to about 5,000 abandoned properties. While many are in places like Indianapolis and Gary, two of the state’s biggest cities, they’re also in smaller cities and rural areas.
“You drive around smaller communities where there are 10 to 12 homes on a city street and half of them are abandoned,” said Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute. “Even for people who are keeping up their homes, their property values are dropping, and there is nothing they can do about it.”
The blight-elimination money could make a difference for a community like Brazil, a city of 7,900 in west central Indiana, said Mayor Brian Wyndham. His city has lost population and jobs over the last decade, and it doesn’t have the money to knock down abandoned houses.