Indy’s vacant home problem bigger than ever

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 3, 2016) -- A new report shows abandoned homes are a bigger problem in Indianapolis than city leaders ever thought.

The Center for Community Progress estimates 18,000 buildings in the city haven’t had electricity or gas service for more than a year.

On Shelley Covington’s street, there are several abandoned houses. They’ve been that way for years.

“In some cases they’ll tear the houses down,” says Covington. “In some cases, some of the houses have been boarded up three, four, five times.”

Covington and her neighbors have learned the city’s progress taking down houses is slow.

“We’ll get neighbors together and we’ll clean up,” says Covington. “Because you don’t want to walk out of your house in the morning and see that when you don’t have to and you can’t wait on the city all the time.”

During 2014 and 2015, only 17 abandoned houses were demolished by the city. That didn’t even make a dent in the problem.

The Center for Community Progress report shows there are 18,000 houses in the city that haven’t had utilities for over a year. Those homes create a breeding ground for crime.

“One of the main problems with the abandoned housing or homes in that area is the illegal activity, the drugs, the prostitution, squatters that need a place to stay overnight,” says Covington.

The report gives recommendations for how to address problem homes more quickly.

“There are structural changes we need to consider making to the systems that attack these properties,” says Executive Director of Renew Indianapolis, Katy Brett.

This year, Brett has worked with the city to tear down houses in less time. But she says the report points out some inefficiencies that would allow them to work even faster.

“Different agencies, different county officials, different non-profit groups have been doing different pieces and it really hasn’t been a coordinated attack,” Brett says.

The mayor plans to follow a few of the report recommendations, including a pilot program that could help the city acquire and demolish houses much faster.

Brett says the mayor is also bringing everyone who’s been working in a piecemeal fashion on the problem together to come up with solutions that work.

“My hope would be that they can either refurbish the houses and sell them to families that are struggling at a low rate of interest,” says Covington. “Or they could tear the properties down and give the neighbors who live next door the opportunity to buy that land to expand their own property.”

She says those neighbors who will be watching the mayor very closely over the next few months, to see if his plans actually do speed up the process of taking down these blighted homes.

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