CEDAR LAKE | It was the news Dolores Pittman had been waiting to hear after anxious months of facing eviction because of a tax sale blunder.
The Cedar Lake Town Council voted Tuesday night to begin purchasing the tenth of an acre under her house from a real estate speculator and let her stay as a lifelong guest of the town.
"Some of the stress has left. Let's not count our chickens before they hatch, but hopefully this is a good change," the 67-year-old blind woman said Wednesday morning.
Pittman previously had turned to the town of Cedar Lake for help because she believed it had misled her over her parcel's ownership, but until Tuesday night the Town Council appeared to stand aloof.
News accounts of her plight did prompt hundreds of dollars of donations from the public, including $2,500 from a spaghetti dinner fundraiser the Hanover Central High School football team and coach Robert Harrison threw for her last month.
Nevertheless, it wasn't enough to buy back her property from a real estate speculator, Clayton Pullins, of Porter County, who acquired it for $43 three years ago in a county commissioners tax auction that took place because of official confusion over who owned the parcel.
"My lawyer said the court order for eviction could come any time and I would only have 10 days to leave. My granddaughter came to pick up her dog a few days ago and we stood out back, and I told her to say goodbye to the house and we both started crying."
Town Councilman Ralph Miller said Wednesday council members had been discussing her problem. "We were looking at things even back two years ago. It just takes time for things to move," he said.
Town Manager Ian Nicolini said Wednesday, "The direction from the council is to issue a uniform land acquisition offer first that will offer to buy the property at an appraised amount." He said if the town and Pullins cannot reach an agreement, condemnation is a possibility.
Pittman's family bought the house on 138th Avenue just before Christmas 1958, but not the land, which belonged to a church group running a summer resort by the lake. Her family paid rent to the church group — but failed to officially record their home's ownership.
That oversight became a problem when the church group sold most of its resort holdings to town officials for a park now surrounding her home, except for the abandoned the parcel that was her yard, no longer providing a tax exemption for it.
A county government's computer placed it on a tax sale without anyone in county government realizing Pittman was living on it.
The first eviction notice, many months ago, came as a shock to Pittman. She is a former librarian living on a meager pension and disability checks since losing her eyesight three decades ago and had hoped to live out the remainder of her life in the house.
She said the town's effort doesn't come in time to prevent her from having to move this weekend to a rental property near Lowell under preparations she made weeks ago to find shelter. She said she can't afford the rent once her donations run out and hopes the town's acquisition is successful, so she can be home for next Christmas.