Hammond concentrates on demolition of vacant properties

2012-07-17T00:00:00Z 2012-07-24T18:28:26Z Hammond concentrates on demolition of vacant propertiesBy Chelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | On the outside, the house in the 2500 block of New York Avenue seemingly blends in with the rest of the neighborhood.

On the inside, the house shows years of neglect. Garbage is piled on kitchen counters, portions of the ceiling have collapsed and shards of wood lie on the ground from termite damage.

The stench and flies coming from the house compelled a neighbor to notify the city. The house is now on the city's demolition list and is targeted to be taken down in the fall.

"I'm just overwhelmed right now with happiness," said Timothy Petty, who lives on the same street as the decaying home, "because I have to live next to it."

The house is part of a push by Hammond to identify dilapidated properties for rehabilitation or demolition.

Backed by funding the city receives from the Horseshoe Casino, Hammond has demolished about 100 properties a year for the past four years, Hammond Chief of Inspections James Callahan said.

Callahan recalls driving by a house on Harrison Avenue boarded up for years.

“I used to think 'Gosh, if I l lived next door to that and every holiday I had people coming over I would be upset,'” Callahan said. “That was the first one I think we knocked down under (the building department,) and people were thrilled to death.”

Most of the properties are residential homes, vacant and boarded up, with Callahan estimating about 90 percent as rental properties. Demolishing the properties costs $8,000 to $12,000 per structure, Callahan said. The city usually bids out the properties in groups of 10 to save cost.

“In my opinion, the city has never looked as good as it does now,” Callahan said.

The city also has demolished businesses, including a liquor store at 5707 Columbia Ave. George Huskisson, who owns a fencing company across the street, said the store attracted troublemakers and "brought an ugly element to the intersection."

With the store's demolition, problems have diminished, Huskisson said.

"It's really made a nice improvement to our intersection here," he said.

The city began taking a hard look at the properties in 2008 after officials saw the success South Bend had with its program, City Attorney Kris Kantar said.

Properties usually end up on demolition lists by complaints from neighbors.

The city gives the owner an opportunity to repair the house to avoid demolition. At least 75 percent of the time no one shows up to claim the property at the hearing.

“Banks get notice; they don't show up because they're not about to put a penny into repairing it,” Kantar said. “They don't cut the grass. So they're not going to pay to have a roof fixed.”

Communities across the country are dealing with foreclosures, Metropolitan Planning Council Community Development Director Joanna Trotter said.

In Gary, the city is planning to demolish abandoned properties with federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“There should be some thought of what you do with the property afterward,” Trotter said.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said her city is concentrating on the University Park area around Indiana University Northwest, so it's “consistent with the investment the university made."

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