MERRILLVILLE | Efforts to reduce the number of abandoned and vacant homes in Merrillville are advancing.
A committee has been established to oversee the project with Council President Carol Miano selecting Clerk-Treasurer Eugene Guernsey and councilmen Richard Hardaway and Don Spann to serve on the committee.
“I would like to get started as quickly as we can,” said Hardaway, the committee chairman.
Merrillville sets out to acquire abandoned and vacant properties and then make necessary repairs. Disabled veterans would then have the first opportunity to purchase those homes from the town, Hardaway said.
“I think it’s going to be a win for everybody,” he said of the program.
Miano said it’s fitting for Hardaway, Spann and Guernsey to be on the committee because each is a veteran.
An initial step for the program will be to identify potential properties Merrillville could acquire.
Town leaders will work with code enforcement personnel to create an inventory of abandoned properties. Hardaway also asked councilmen to develop a list of abandoned properties in the wards they represent.
Councilman Shawn Pettit suggested the committee should create clear definitions of abandoned and vacant properties before the town begins acquiring the homes.
Hardaway said the committee also wants to meet with Town Attorney John Bushemi to begin drafting ordinances needed for the property acquisitions.
“I’m prepared to help,” Bushemi said.
In addition to filling and improving abandoned properties in Merrillville, the program could provide other benefits in the community, town officials said.
Miano said abandoned and vacant buildings can attract criminal activity, so getting the homes occupied could reduce crime in Merrillville.
The idea for the new program came from Guernsey. He said he proposed the project after he became aware of changes in state law that allow a municipality to file petitions to have properties declared abandoned and vacant and then put in the municipality's name without having to go before the Lake County Board of Commissioners.