Indianapolis can’t demolish its way out of abandoned house dilemma

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Aug. 25, 2015)-- There are an estimated 7,000 abandoned properties in Indianapolis, from the huge former RCA plant on East Michigan Street to a small house across town in the 1000 block of Udell Street.

The Mayor's Office has budgeted less than $1 million this year to demolish abandoned properties in the city.

"There are far more homes abandoned than we have the money to demolish. It costs about $12,000 for demolition for one house," said Steve Wolff of the Department of Code Enforcement. "We have about $850,000 total in the budget for demolition and that includes emergency demolition."

Wolff told a briefing of the Department of Public Safety and other city officials that DCE has a hit list of 21 properties it plans to have demolished sooner rather than later with a goal of taking down a total of 40 properties in the coming year.

It's expected many more than that number will fall into disrepair and abandonment in that time across the city.

One of those properties already demolished is 8349 Fieldfare Way, Ground Zero for the murderous Richmond Hill insurance fraud explosion more than two-and-a-half years ago.

Two neighbors died when Monserrate Shirley's house was destroyed in an intentionally set natural gas blast.

Prime co-conspirator Mark Leonard was convicted of 53 counts, including arson, conspiracy, insurance fraud and murder, in July and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Weeks later, the scorched foundation and driveway of his former girlfriend's home were demolished, removing the last physical evidence of the tragedy.

The Marion County Treasurer still lists Shirley as the owner, liable for $3194.76 in back taxes.

The value of the property this year is pegged at $170,400.

The two-story home on a slab was obliterated by the November, 2012, blast that one expert testified could have had the explosive power of more than three tons of TNT.

The home was double mortgaged, covered by State Farm Insurance and Shirley has been incarcerated, most recently in the Boone County Jail, since December 21, 2012.

The city will offer the property in a tax sale later this year and any of the demolition costs will be attached to that sale.

When the FBI raided the Land Bank in 2013, investigators and corruption set back the city's efforts to turn distressed properties over to private buyers to rehabilitate or build anew on the land.

"We had to be able to acquire the properties, whether it be the city already owned them, surplus or private partner," said Mark Forcum of the Department of Metropolitan Development who is working in conjunction with the Land Bank's successor Renew Indianapolis to turn around 300 properties in the coming year. "Instead of just demolishing and mowing the grass, there's an end use for every single property whether it be single family new construction, multi family new construction, commercial redevelopment or urban farming."

"Demolition is a last resort remedy," said Wolff who estimates it takes at least a full year to demolish a property from inspection to owner identification to court hearing to take down. "There are many other remedies that we would rather use that are far less expensive that are better for the neighborhood than demolishing the house such as shoring the house up, boarding the house, getting the owners to repair the house is a far better solution than demolishing the house."

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