Tag Archives: Land law

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.

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.

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.