Seminar Offers Ideas on Problem Properties
On October 26, the Post-Tribune published an article titled Seminar Offers Ideas on Dealing With Problem Properties.
Seminar offers ideas on dealing with problem properties
MERRILLVILLE — Indiana has the highest rate of foreclosed houses that are abandoned in the nation — at nearly 30 percent — and municipalities in Northwest Indiana are looking for strategies to deal with the problem.
As population has dwindled in northern Lake County’s urban core, abandoned properties contribute to drops in local property values and serve as magnets to crime and blight.
The Lake County Housing Taskforce and the Greater Northwest Indiana Association of Realtors sponsored seminar Thursday on solutions to get problem properties back on the tax rolls.
Speakers focused on three main strategies for tackling the problem: code enforcement, tax sales, and land banks. Currently, Northwest Indiana doesn’t have a land bank. These bodies, which can be run by municipalities or nonprofits, help cities or counties manage and repurpose properties that have been abandoned, underused or foreclosed.
County Commissioner Mike Repay, D-Hammond, believes it could be used to something significant in Lake County — provided that 16 municipalities can agree how to run the system.
“I think the key to making it work is a cooperative approach,” Repay said. “I’m more than willing to participate and take a leadership role, but it’s a matter of getting people on the same page.”
Andy Fraizer, executive director of the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development, said many land banks in Michigan have little to no staff and don’t require a lot of additional funding to run. Fraizer said it’s important for a land bank to establish a clear and transparent mission and help engage the community.
The Indiana General Assembly passed the first law in 2006 allowing county executives — such as the Lake County Commissioners — to establish land banks, but the state’s experience has been mixed bag so far. The state’s first land bank — the Indy Land Bank — was shut down after city officials were caught taking bribes to steer dozens of properties to certain nonprofit organizations. Another land bank, the nonprofit Renew Indianapolis, is finalizing its policies and plans.
The city of South Bend just released a study to try to gauge the scope of abandoned housing in that city and how best to tackle it.
“It’s a large issue with a lot of moving pieces, and it’s inextricably linked to how we do tax sales in Indiana,” Fraizer said.
Property owners who don’t pay their taxes have their parcels placed in the Treasurer’s Sale. But Fraizer said the sales don’t always bring out people who plan on living at a property.
“Buyers purchase at a sale because they expect to get a bargain,” Fraizer said.
Repay said buyers only receive a lien against back taxes and must pay to receive a clear title, which can result in the same property boomeranging back to the sales if the taxes aren’t paid.
Officials from Hammond, Munster and Highland discussed how code enforcement can be used to benefit the community — from working with homeowners who have trouble maintaining their properties to tearing down uninhabitable homes.
Clay Johnson, Munster’s deputy town manager, said the town’s landscape ordinance influences businesses to bring their properties up to standard, while Highland Redevelopment Director Cecile Petro said the town bans boarded up windows and doors.
Hammond Code Enforcement Officer Kelly Kearney about 80 percent of the department’s time is spent in the lengthy process it takes to clear a home’s title and get it placed on the demolition list.
“It’s amazing to me that people just get up and leave a house,” Kearney said. “They leave clothes and beds; I don’t understand why they do it. I think the more people you have, the more problems you have.”
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