Tag Archives: Gary Indiana

Breaking 26 Y.O. Gary Man Dies After Being Shot

27 Dec interstate 80 94 accident

by Ken Davidson

Gary, Indiana saw another homicide tonight. At approximately 9:00 p.m. the Gazette began receiving reports of a homicide in the 2100 block of Georgia Street in Gary. Gary police were reportedly searching for a suspect in a late model grand prix. The Gazette is awaiting official confirmation from the office of the lake county coroner but feel confident enough to report this homicide at this time. King Carter was the first to report this incident. Others have subsequently verified it, including family members of the victim.

City of Gary Says Sheraton Project is Neighborhood Stabilization

19 Dec

by Ken Davidson

At last night’s meeting of the Gary Redevelopment Commission, the Board approved a contract for environmental monitoring of the Sheraton Hotel project. The contract was awarded to Shrewsberry and Associates, LLC of Indianapolis. Shrewsberry and Associates has strong ties to State democrats, including former Chairman of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee William Crawford. Crawford came under fire for not disclosing his financial interests with the Firm when he was appointed to Ways and Means. Shrewsberry no longer lists its Board of Directors on its website or in public filings that are readily available.

The original Request for Proposals for the demolition called for the contractor to include asbestos remediation and monitoring within the proposal. This additional cost was calculated into the bids submitted by others who were not aware that the Board would later hire another firm and pay that firm separately.

All of this is not unusual for Gary. Although the above is questionable, at best, the Gazette receives reports of such irregularities on a semi-consistent basis. What makes this proposal astounding is how the City apparently plans to pay for the additional cost. The Gazette has learned that the City has included the Sheraton Property in the 2014 Neighborhood Stabilization Plan.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) was established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the purpose of stabilizing communities that have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment. Through the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed, abandoned and short-sale homes, the program’s goals is being realized.

The grant information provided by the City appears to reference this purpose:

[NSP] appropriates $2,717,859 for the purpose of assisting in the redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes.The grant program is commonly referred to as the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).

The Times of Northwest Indiana Legal Notice 12-19-2013

The Notice goes on, however, to list the “neighborhood surrounding the old Sheraton Hotel and its adjoining garage located at 465 Broadway” as an area of additional need. The Sheraton is not only a commercial property, it lies in the major commercial zone of the City. Sitting between City Hall and a Township owned office building, the structure is blocks from any residential structure. The neighborhoods that SHOULD receive relief under the program will not receive the funding intended for them. In fact, it seems likely that Gary will end up repaying another very large grant to the Federal Government.

With 10,000 abandoned homes, one would think that every cent of the NSP funds would go toward rehabilitation of residences.

Violation of Public Trust-Gary Deeds Beach to Redevelopment

18 Dec

by Ken Davidson

The City of Gary has put up to 90 acres of Marquette Park at risk. At a recent meeting of the Baord of Public Works, the City deeded approximately 90 acres of prime beach land to the Department of Redevelopment. The transfer went unnoticed until it was brought to the attention of the press and the Board by activist Jim Nowacki. The Board and the Department assured all involved that the transaction was a mistake and would be remedied. Today corporation counsel Niquelle Allen flatly denied that the transfer was an error. According to Nowacki, he asked Ms. Allen pointedly why the property was not transferred back to the City. “I asked three times” Nowacki said. Her response was clear and to the point, it was not a mistake. The transfer was what the City intended.

    What is at stake:

 
The property in question includes more than 2500 feet of beach frontage. It also includes a large portion of Marquette Park, which the Regional Development Authority just spent millions to renovate. Although the transfer does not include the pavillion, it does include lands adjacent to the pavilion. The property is described in the GIS system as:

5600-6400 Indian Boundary Appr. Gary: ALL N. TEN MILE LINE & w. OF RIV. S. 31 T. 37
R. 7 90.031 ACRES

The land in question begins at the old US Marine Corps reserve center and runs east to the edge of the Marquette Park parking lot. The understanding of most was that the area west of Lake Street, approximately 4 acres, was to be set aside for redevelopment. One activist stated “you don’t violate the public trust for strangers” implying that there was some plan to transfer the property to a political insider. The transfer apparently leaves the entire parcel open for development.

Calls to Mr. Van Dyk, director of the Department of Redevelopment and to Niquelle Allen, Corporation Counsel had not been returned at the time of this writing.

NIRPC Passes Illiana, Lowell Residents Outraged, Union Members Cheer

12 Dec

by Ken Davidson

In perhaps one of the most contentious public meetings of the year, a room full of people who face losing their farms and family homes squared off with union members looking for temporary jobs.  Union members cheered as NIRPC voted to approve the Illiana Toll Road while farmers cried.  Perhaps the best comment was from a Lowell resident who said “move the road closer to Cedar Lake and Crown Point since they want it so bad.”  That comment clearly points out the irony of communities who have nothing to lose weighing in on the fate of people’s homes in rural south county Indiana.

Christine Cid stood up to the machine once again and voted against the Illiana.  You will recall that Cid was the lone democrat on the County Council standing against the income tax.  This time Cid was joined by County Chair Thomas McDermott.  McDermott, acting as Mayor of Hammond, clearly stated that communities along the 80/94 corridor may be harmed by the southern corridor.  Thus, the question as to why Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson decided to support the controversial plan.  Freeman-Wilson would appear to have the most to lose with the construction of the tollway as she has pinned Gary’s revitalization hopes to the plan to be a transportation hub.  The Illiana Toll Road is expected to be a catalyst for the proposed Peotone Airport as well as a truck route to avoid congestion.  The primary economic growth Gary has seen in recent years has been along the 80/94 corridor.  In the event the Illiana is successful in removing even 20% of the truck traffic from the area, that could be a large loss in jobs and tax revenue for Gary.

The real story here is Governor Mike Pence.  Pence chimed in today praising the Board for passing the plan.  Pence would do well to remember his base if he plans to run for re-election.  It seems that he was outmaneuvered politically during this entire process.  Maybe we will see a Governor McDermott after all.

Transportation Committee Approves Illiana; Gary Abstains

3 Dec

by Ken Davidson

The Transportation Committee of the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission voted 18-8 this morning to add the Illiana toll road project to the 2040 comprehensive plan.  The controversial vote moves the issue forward to the full NIRPC Committee where the fate is uncertain.  The major surprise was the abstention by Gary.  Opponents of the plan had hoped that Gary would vote against the project because it will adversely affect Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s plan to make Gary a transportation hub.

The meeting was strongly attended by union members who support the construction jobs the project will bring. Proponents have argued that the project would bring thousands of jobs to the region.  Residents of the affected region voiced their opposition to the plan via comments online.  Dan Blankenship, a vocal opponent of the plan who lives in Lowell commented:

Nov 19, 2013

I oppose the Illiana for reasons shown in the 2040 Comprehensive Plan from NIRPC that states we need to upkeep roads and highways and infrastructure in the northern part of Lake County and keep intact our farmlands, our wetlands and our wooded areas. It would be a great move if NIRPC turned down this road to nowhere. It will not benefit Indiana in any way. There is no way there will be 16,000 jobs created. Crains’ Chicago Business magazine quoted that the actual belief is it will create only about 900 jobs and that would be over a 10-15 year period. The toll road is not needed, it is a fiasco and I hope all NIRPC members will vote against it. Thank you.  Dan Blankenship, Lowell

All of the comments received by NIRPC are published on their website and you can view them <a href="http://nirpc.org/illiana-expressway-project/public-comments.aspx"Here.

The proposal will now go to full Commission.  At full Commission any member may call for a “weighted vote.” Under the rules, a weighted vote will allow communities to vote based on population. This means that the northern county cities of Gary, Hammond and East Chicago would have a much larger say in whether the plan moves forward.

Mortgage Fraud Collateral Damage/More mortgage fraud convictions…

21 Nov

Submitted by Gary Free Press

The following post is in response to the sentencing of Jeffrey Youngheim, owner of Property Liquidators in Gary, Indiana. It was provided to the Gazette by Gary Free Press and is reprinted in its entirety.

While the Judge in the case identified that mortgage fraud hurts lenders and the community as the homes go into foreclosure and sit empty, what he did not mention, and may not even be aware of is another way all of these mortgage fraud schemes have done horrible damage to the Gary community.

During the height of the mortgage fraud binge in Gary; which included certain individuals formerly employed by the City of Gary—at least one of them a department head—all of these characters were flying high. They created a false bubble. They kept inflating the “values” of these homes in Gary, these homes that were the grist for their scheme.

But the actual real estate market in Gary was declining. Actual market values were plunging downward, yet these scammers kept submitting these fake and fraudulent sales to the County. Pretty much the only homes that were selling–besides all of the stuff being sold on tax sales, were from this group and many of the other groups plying the mortgage fraud schemes in Gary. Remember Jerry Haymon and his crew? The sales information from these mortgage fraud sales were about the only information for sales there was in Gary. So when the Calumet Township Assessor developed their trending ratios (the basis for raising the assessments) from sales disclosures, this is all they had to work with. But they were all fake! The few legitimate sales would have shown declining values.

So here is where the problem came in: the Calumet Township Assessor, instead of actually assessing property properly, uses the data from all of these fraudulent transactions as a basis to determine trending ratios. To them, it seems that the Gary housing market is on fire, but in reality, in is dead on arrival. So they apply this falsely derived trending ratio to all of the properties that aren’t part of these fraud schemes. What happens then? Assessed values of property in Gary doubles, triples, quadruples, and then some! 6000 appeals pending! Up to 13,000 Gary properties listed on tax sales! Everything is screwed up royally!

So why then, now that these schemes have been all been exposed, don’t they (Calumet Township Assessor) admit their mistakes? When will they take responsibility for all of the damage they have caused by using the bad data these frauds generated? Unfortunately, it is too late to undue most of the damage. People have fled the city. People just walked away from their properties. They had no choice; they couldn’t afford to hang onto them any longer. Now we learn there are 10,000 abandoned homes that need to be demolished.

All of these disastrous conditions can be directly linked to these mortgage fraud schemes.

The Judge was right, these schemes were very damaging to the community; but the greatest damage and the greatest harm to the Gary community was caused by the Calumet Township Assessor’s mistakes.

And now, we are supposed to worry about these two defendants being inconvenienced by both being in federal prison at the same time? They were an integral part of the broader conspiracy that helped to destroy this city. They do not seem to be good candidates for sympathy.

Merrillville Dems: All Are Welcome

4 Nov

by Ken Davidson

 

Carol Miano presented a clear message at the inaugural meeting of the Merrillville and the Region Democratic Club:  If you share our values, you are welcome here.  Democrats from Merrillville, Gary, Hobart and other communities joined Miano to discuss ways that they could encourage others to get involved in local politics.  “We do not endorse candidates” explained Miano.  The club is seeking new members who are interested in getting involved in their local communities in any way.  One of the fundraisers Miano spoke about benefitted the Ross Township Food Pantry.

Lake County office holders were also on hand to talk to constituents and offer encouragement to the club.  County Treasurer John Petalas made a brief appearance and County Clerk Mike Brown also attended.  Ross Township Trustee Joe Shudick and Merrillville Councilman Don Spann were also in attendance.

The next meeting of the group takes place on December 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Merrillville Slovak Club 6920 Broadway.

merrillville, indiana democrats

Merrillville Town Council Member Carol Miano speaks at the Merrillville and the Region Democrat Club

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.