GARY — Gary officials have already used federal funds to knock down nearly 200 abandoned structures and are hoping that recent Congressional action can help them make even more of an impact when it comes to the thousands of blighted buildings in the community.

In 2014, Gary was authorized to receive $6.6 million in funding from the Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program to demolish a minimum of 379 structures. City officials are hoping to knock down a far greater number with that money, but it will still only be a small percentage of the number of blighted and vacant structures in Gary. Last February, the city released the results of a survey that showed the city had 6,794 vacant structures and thousands more that were considered blighted.

Since that time, the city has demolished 183 structures with the Hardest Hit money. Another 32 structures are in the process of being demolished, while the demolition of 25 more have yet to be scheduled. The city's Redevelopment Commission on Wednesday also voted to seek bids for the demolition of 69 additional structures.

The city may eventually be able to demolish in excess of 500 structures with the initial amount of federal money it was authorized to receive from the state, said Joseph van Dyk, executive director of planning and redevelopment for the city. 

The Housing Finance Agency Innovation Fund for the Hardest-Hit Markets, commonly known as the Hardest Hit Fund, was initially to provide financial assistance to families in 18 states and the District of Columbia that were severely affected by the downturn in the housing market. The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority was awarded more than $221 million.

In addition to helping low and moderate homeowners impacted by the downturn, Indiana and five other states eventually received approval to use a portion of the money to fight blight. Congress recently authorized $2 billion more for the Hardest Hit Fund and Indiana and other states along with communities like Gary are waiting to see how much more the might receive.

Mark Neyland, director of asset preservation for the state's Housing and Community Development Authority, said Thursday that officials don't have any idea when the U.S. Department of the Treasury will apportion the money for the states. Once the state receives the money, it then will have to determine how to use the funds.

Neyland also said that the state is having a study conducted to determine the impact of the blight elimination program. He noted, however, that it will take a few years to determine the impact from the structures that have been removed.

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Ed has been with The Times since January 2014. He previously covered government affairs for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida. Prior to Scripps, he was with the Chicago Regional Bureau of Copley News Service.