The South Suburban Land Bank and Development Authority is working well in Chicago's south suburbs. Northwest Indiana needs something similar, especially for the urban northern communities that have small lots that currently aren't very marketable.

Lake County Treasurer John Petalas is putting tax-delinquent properties on the market for speculators to choose from.

Often, these properties have been put up for sale year after year because they're worth so little. Often, they contain gutted buildings and overgrown foundations. Once they were in a thriving area, but decay set in when owners fled.

"They should pass a law that takes abandoned properties off the tax rolls and gives them to the cities, so they can do something with it and get it off my tax sale," Petalas said.

State Rep. Edward Clere, R-New Albany, has been trying to pass just such a law.

"This is an example of a problem that a well-designed land bank would address," Clere said. "The idea involves wiping off the back taxes and starting with a clean slate, so properties like this aren't so upside-down."

County government can do this, but counties haven't been eager to collect abandoned property like this.

Just across the state line, the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Agency has been in operation a year now. It's a success story that should be followed in Indiana.

Ed Paesel, executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, wrote about the agency in a June 22 column for The Times.

Already, the South Suburban land bank has secured more than $2 million in state fund and is aggressively purchasing distressed properties.

These properties will be renovated and resold. Vacant lots will be maintained until developers can be found. In some cases, small properties may be given to neighbors for a larger lot. Gardens are possible, too.

That would be a big improvement for Lake County properties that currently remain unproductive, going through tax sales again and again because they're unwanted. Some have been on the market for more than a decade.

Indiana should give municipalities the ability to create land banks to address this blight.

"We should be looking at the big picture of neighborhood and community stabilization," Clere said.

He's right. Indiana should follow best practices elsewhere, including the South Suburban Land Bank and Development Agency.

Keeping orphaned properties on tax sales year after year isn't accomplishing the goal of putting them to good use again.


Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.