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Gary looks to fight blight with data

Gary looks to fight blight with data

GARY | City officials hope compiling comprehensive data on blighted property in the community will help it better plan its future.

Dealing with amount of blight in the city can be daunting from a strictly financial basis. Flint, Mich., for example, is said to have 5,028 residential structures and 432 commercial structures in need of blight elimination. The cost for demolitions, mowing, waste removal, and boarding up all the properties has been estimated at nearly $108 million.

Gary, by comparison, has 12,394 blighted structures, according to a recent land parcel survey conducted in conjunction with the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. 

"Common sense says it will probably cost us more than it will cost Flint," said Joseph van Dyk, Gary redevelopment director.

The city, like Flint, doesn't have the money to take care of the problem immediately. 

"That's really the key question," said van Dyk in regard to where the money is going to come from to deal with the blight.

Van Dyk thinks the city has been efficient in how it uses the money it has obtained. The city received $6.6 million in federal money awarded by the state last year through its Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program. The money was expected to be used to tear down a minimum of 379 buildings, but van Dyk said the city hopes to demolish 500 to 600 buildings.

On Tuesday, the Gary City Council is scheduled to discuss authorizing a temporary interfund loan from its casino revenues fund to its blight elimination fund.

The city is hoping the information it puts together on the different properties in Gary will make it easier to acquire additional grant money for demolitions or redevelopment when it becomes available. The city also will use assistance through a Technical Assistance Scholarship Program administered by the Center for Community Progress. Gary was one of only four communities in the nation to receive support through the program.

The organization is a strong proponent of land banking in which communities acquire problem properties and later transfer, or sell, them to new owners to be used in a way consistent with a community-based plan. 

"That is one thing that we would like to explore," van Dyk said, but noted Indiana does not have statewide legislation in place allowing for such a program like they do in Michigan and Ohio.

Legislation passed in 2006 helped creat a land bank in Indianapolis in 2007 through that city's Department of Metropolitan Development, but van Dyk believes that legislation was crafted specifically for that municipality.

"There is no wide-ranging land bank legislation in Indiana like there is in other states," van Dyk said.

Tarik Abdelazim, with the Center for Community Progress, said while the costs to fix problems involving blight are often steep, "many communities have come to recognize that the greatest costs come from simply doing nothing."

He said in addition to land banks there are "many innovative practices and successes to point to across the country. None are cheap or easy, and no government can tackle this challenge alone."

While van Dyk thinks land banking could be a great tool to deal with vacant properties, he said in the short term the city will be looking at compiling data on all the properties and creating a detailed map. The information on the different properties, from code issues to crime statistics, exists but is spread out around various departments. The city hopes to be able to coalesce all this information with the assistance of the Center for Community Progress program.


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