Indianapolis public housing agency tries to avoid tax foreclosure of properties

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The Indianapolis Housing Agency (IHA) Board of Commissioners took emergency action Tuesday afternoon to potentially remove two of its premier public housing properties from the next Marion County Treasurer’s tax sale.

“I will start out by saying that this is probably the resolution that you never want to see but you will see and it will have to be explained for years to come,” Insight Development Corporation President Jennifer Green told the Board.

Insight is IHA’s development arm.

In a notice filed September 6th, the Barton Annex property at 501 North East Street and its companion property across the street, the Barton Tower at 555 Massachusetts Avenue, are listed for sale for $294,864.79 in back taxes.

Barton Tower is wrapped in a pair of commercial and market real estate profit making properties titled Millikan I and Millikan II.

Those properties were developed by Insight Development Corporation and Green told the Board that the Millikan sites were improperly assessed as part of the Barton properties by the Marion County Assessor.

“They performed an assessment and we received that assessed value in 2018 but they put the assessed value on the Barton Tower and the Barton Annex,” said Green. “In the meantime while all this was going on, because the taxes had not been paid, the county treasurer put the Barton Tower and Barton Annex into the 2019 tax sale.”

Green did not explain why Insight’s own record keepers failed to realize that Millikan taxes had not been paid or if older back taxes would be assessed and charged.

After multiple failed attempts to work out a solution to the 2019 spring tax bill, Green brought a last-minute proposal for the Board to agree to pay the back taxes the Assessor said are owed on the Barton properties.

“The only way they can do this, even though the property is exempt, is for us to sign this agreement that says we will make payments over the next several years which we have no intention of doing because on September 27th all of this will be resolved.”

Green said she expects IHA to prevail at a Board of Tax Appeals hearing that day.

“That’s the only way for them to get it out of the tax sale is for us to sign the monthly payment agreement and to pay five percent of the taxes owed to get us started.”

Green said it took the personal interventions of Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett and Mayor Joe Hogsett with the Assessor and the Treasurer to work out the payment plan that she said no one expects the Agency to uphold.

“We’re trying to get this all worked out to know what taxes should be assessed to what properties,” said Green.

IHA Executive Director John Hall asked Green about her plan should the tax appeal fail.

Green said the next step would be to sue the county in circuit court.

Hall said he would be informing officials at the Department of Housing & Urban Development to forestall any potential federal audit as a result of the property tax dilemma.

The IHA boss brought in by Hogsett this past spring to clean up the troubled agency announced that he expects a certain amount of “rightsizing” in next year’s IHA budget as jobs may be lost due to anticipated co-management agreements with private contractors to oversee various public housing properties.

Hall indicated such co-management agreements would ease the anxieties of IHA’s private lenders over years of property deterioration and growing vacancies.

While Hall has been successful in raising IHA’s occupancy rate to 91%, several points below federal guidelines, and IHA has narrowly passed recent HUD reviews and inspections, outstanding uncollectible debts from tenants total approximately $1 million and multiple properties need millions of dollars in overdue investments and upgrades.

Hall said in the coming year his staff would be taking a “more aggressive” approach in whittling down its waiting lists for subsidized housing and Section 8 housing vouchers.

IHA is responsible for providing or administering the shelter needs of approximately 25,000 low income clients throughout Marion County with a budget of more than $70 million a year.

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