Tag Archives: Earline Rogers

Abandoned Homes or Abandoned Homeowners?

1 Nov

by Ken Davidson

 

Gary IndianaThe Gazette reported on the IHCDA plan to assist Gary and other Cities in the elimination of abandoned homes earlier in the week. You can see that story Here in case you missed it. This is the second in a series of articles examining what got Gary to the point that there are an estimated ten thousand abandoned and vacant homes throughout the city.  Most homes in Lake County are assessed by the County Assessor.  In Calumet Township, that is not the case.  As discussed below, the office of Calumet Township Assessor Jackie Collins is responsible for assessing the values of homes in Griffith, Gary and parts of unincorporated Lake County.

The Mayor attributes the problems in Gary, in part, to the foreclosure crisis. The foreclosure crisis is a national problem that plagues nearly every urban area in the country. Gary, however, was hit less hard by the foreclosure crisis than any other city for two reasons. First, there was never a real estate bubble in Gary, Indiana. There was not a time when homeowners refinanced their homes and took large amounts of cash out because the values never rose rapidly. Second, Gary has a higher rate of homeowners with no mortgage than any other city in Lake County and probably the state.  State Senator Earline Rogers made no  comments regarding the cause of the crisis other than to refer to Indianapolis as the “Hoosier Holyland” which suggested to me that she blamed downstate lawmakers for the problems.

The Mayor and Senator Earline Rogers fail to mention the other likely reasons for the number of abandoned and vacant homes in Gary. We examined the lack of city services in a prior article (you can read that Here ). Lets talk about the taxation issues and how they cause homeowners to flee the city.

First, lets understand how properties are assessed in Indiana. The general assembly passed a law that allowed residents in certain townships to choose to keep or eliminate office of the township assessor. This was done by a referendum in 2008. The overwhelming majority of townships in Indiana who were given the choice eliminated the office of township assessor and county assessors are now performing the duties of assessing those areas in a more efficient manner. The voters of Calumet Township chose to keep their township assessor. That office is currently held by Jackie Collins.

This is the office that has failed to keep the Gary Housing and City of Gary properties off the tax sale rolls even when notified that the parcels are owned by a government agency. The City is now spending tens of thousands of dollars on private attorneys to retrieve hundreds of units that were erroneously taxed and sold. The same office that allegedly used public funds to send out flyers telling Gary residents that they may lose tax credits (statutory tax credits which are provided by the State of Indiana) if they did not vote to keep the office open. And this is the office that is responsible for determining the fair market value of land, buildings and personal property for all of Calumet Township.

Ralston Street was mentioned as one of the streets that received little in the way of City services at the IHCDA meeting, so I thought I would take a look at the tax values on Ralston. If we start at the corner of 24th and Ralston is one of those evil out of town landowners that was discussed by the politicians at the meeting. The home is assessed at $148,900. With a Gary Sanitary District Fee of $60 and a Little Calumet River Basin fee of $45, the total annual tax bill is $5,830.00.

Across the street, still at the corner of 24th and Ralston is an owner occupied home. It is assessed at $58,000 and has a homestead deduction (no mortgage deduction by the way). The total tax was $2008 last year but dropped to about $931.00 this year. There are late fees of $432.17 on a delinquency of about $1100.00 In order to avoid tax sale and stay in this home, the taxpayer had to pay $2067 in the first installment this year. The second installment of taxes due now is $443.39.

As you continue down the block, you finally get to some properties that seem to be properly assessed. INS Incorporated owns a home at the end of Ralston Street that is assessed at $12,000. There are others that show taxes in the range of $700 last year. No explanation as to why one homeowner, on the same block, paid nearly 3 times the tax last year and then was hit with another $432 in penalties.

The wild fluctuations in values from year to year and similar properties together with ever increasing fees have caused many homes in Gary to go to the tax sale. Even at the tax sale many homes remain unsold even for the amount of the delinquent tax. The market is that bad in Gary. People are not even buying homes for $2,000; yet residents are being charged that much and more for one year’s worth of taxes.

Forgotten Neighborhoods . . .

30 Oct

by Ken Davidson

 

The Topic was to be abandoned homes and what to do about them, but when the question and answer session began,  one term was used repeatedly: forgotten neighborhoods.   Several Gary residents, from nearly all sections of the City, got up and referred to their area as forgotten.  The descriptions that followed detailed a complete breakdown in the provision of city services.

One resident stated she was a lifelong Gary resident and had no desire to move.  She stated she had bought several other properties near her Ralston Avenue home because they were abandoned and she just wanted to maintain them.  “I don’t know how much more I can do” she stated with frustration after describing sidewalks that children could not walk down because of overgrown weeds.

The problems were echoed by residents from Tarrytown, Glen Park, West Side, Aetna, Small Farms, Black Oak and Horace Mann.  A Glen Park woman described how nice her neighborhood once was.  She described a block of abandoned homes and overgrown vacant lots.

But there was no buck stopping anywhere near Earline Rogers or Karen Freeman-Wilson.  The politicians pointed fingers everywhere but at themselves.  Earline Rogers said only two sentences;  in one she referred to Indianapolis as the “Hoosier Holyland.”  Mayor Freeman-Wilson pointed to the foreclosure crisis, out-of-state landlords,  and general economic conditions as root causes of the problems in Gary.  Although selective code enforcement was cited as a tool to be utilized to gain title to the abandoned homes which are not owned by the City, no one  was willing to address the numerous complaints of lack of basic city services including code enforcement and police protection.  The Mayor did state that they know where all of the abandoned homes are located.

To his credit, Lake County Treasurer John Petalas was the only County official to show at the meeting.  The County Treasurer and Auditor’s office have as much to do with the abandoned housing crisis in Gary as anyone else.  That folks, is the teaser for the next article.

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IHCDA Outlines $60M Plan to Demolish Abandoned Houses

28 Oct

by Ken Davidson

 

Karen Freeman-Wilson

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson addresses a crowd at IHCDA informational session

Representatives of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Agency tonight announced a plan to divert $60M from the Hardest Hit Fund to demolish abandoned homes throughout the state.  Under the plan, Indianapolis and Lake County would share in approximately $16M in federal funds.  The packed house at the Gary YWCA was led by State Senators Earline Rogers and Jim Merritt, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and IHCDA representatives.

IHCDA Coordinator Ryanna Binder presented a matrix to be used by local governments to request funds under the program.  Criteria such as habitability, number of police calls and potential uses for the vacant land would all be weighted and utilized to determine which houses are scheduled for demolition.

Lake County Treasurer John Petalas was present and stated that there are more than 10,000 vacant or abandoned homes in Gary which are in need of demolition.  This statistic may be flawed, however, as it apparently comes from a statistic prepared by the County which includes vacant lots.  Mayor Freeman-Wilson has stated it would cost approximately $6,600 per home for demolition.  The program would allow up to $15,000 for acquisition and demolition of properties.  Under the formula, Gary could demolish approximately 300 homes if the funds are distributed based on population.   Mayor Thomas McDermott, the Chair of the Lake County Democratic Party, has suggested the State provide $65M to Gary to demolish abandoned homes.

Officials stated the Federal Government would still have to approve the use of funds.  Submissions for demolition could begin as early as January if all approvals are obtained.  There were no representatives from other cities or towns in Lake County at the meeting although they would be eligible to vie for the funds.

During question and answer sessions, the comments primarily centered on city enforcement of codes and maintenance of abandoned properties as well as rights of way.

Indiana Housing Agency to Host Forum on Abandoned Homes

23 Oct
Gazette Staff


The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority and a group of bi-partisan elected officials including Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and State Senator Earline Rogers will host a public forum to address blighted, vacant and abandoned homes.  The forum will be held October 28, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. and the public is encouraged to attend.
Public forum to be held October 28, 2013 at 6 p.m. in Gary.  The event will be held at the YWCA of Northwest Indiana, 150 West 15th Avenue, Gary, Ind.

The Hardest Hit Fund is a national program available in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Indiana was awarded more than $221 million under the Hardest Hit Fund and is targeting low- to moderate-income homeowners whose primary residence is in any county in Indiana. The State of Indiana, through IHCDA, is exploring the use of a portion of the Hardest Hit Funds to demolish blighted and abandoned homes that are beyond repair. The goal is not simply to demolish abandoned homes, but to stabilize property values in Indiana communities. The proposed partnership between IHCDA and Indiana municipalities would allow communities to demolish blighted properties and offer a variety of end uses for the newly cleared properties including green space and redevelopment. IHCDA, Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann, IHCDA's Board Chair, Mayor Freeman-Wilson, Senator Rogers and Senator Merritt believe that the demolition of abandoned and blighted homes would be a significant step toward rebuilding Hoosier communities. Since IHCDA's announcement that it was exploring the use of Hardest Hit Funds to eliminate blighted and abandoned properties, many have expressed concern that doing so might detract from the mission of helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. IHCDA would like to reassure the public that it is committed to using the majority of Hardest Hit Funds to help individual homeowners in need. As of September 30, 2013, more than 2,250 homeowners have received approximately $24 million in Hardest Hit Fund mortgage payment assistance; and another $49 million has been set aside to provide mortgage payment assistance to approved homeowners currently enrolled in the program.
If you are unable to attend the public hearings, please submit written comments to feedback@ihcda.in.gov<mailto:feedback@ihcda.in.gov> by Monday, Dec. 2, 2013.