The Cook County medical examiner's office has identified the Gary man fatally shot in the back inside a Gary nightclub early Saturday morning.
Kevin L. Katona Jr., 29, died Saturday at the University of Chicago Medical Center, a release from the Cook County medical examiner's office states.* Cause of death was listed as multiple gunshot wounds and manner of death was homicide.
Gary police are investigating whether the shots that mortally wounded Katona at about 2 a.m. Saturday were fired from inside or outside the Voodoo Lounge in the 5000 block of Broadway, police said Saturday.
Katona's death is the 34th homicide in the city so far this year, police said. It was the fourth slaying in the past week, following a six-week stretch without any homicides.
Katona told police he was inside the nightclub when he heard gunshots and felt a sharp pain in his back, Cmdr. Jack Hamady said.
He was initially taken to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary and later flown to the University of Chicago.
He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 8:24 a.m., according to the medical examiner's release.
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Detective Alex Jones of the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit at 219-755-3855. To remain anonymous call 866-CRIME-GP.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Kevin L. Katona Jr. due to incorrect information released by the Cook County medical examiner's office.
CROWN POINT — Floyd Mowry has nothing against roundabouts, but he has petitions he said contain signatures of 950 people opposed to having one at the intersection of 109th Avenue and Iowa Street.
Mowry, who lives on 109th near the intersection, spoke at a recent Board of Public Works and Safety meeting saying he and those who signed the petition want a stoplight to help control the busy intersection.
"I live in the area and I know what's going on," Mowry said. "I hate the horn serenade every day. At times I can't get out of my driveway. People will not let you out. Courtesy is not on that corner and it never will be."
He said he uses the roundabouts in Valparaiso often and thinks they are fine, but a roundabout would not work at Iowa and 109th because of all the traffic. He said a count done about four years ago showed 15,000 vehicles a day, and he asked if anyone knew what it is now. No one from the city staff had a number.
Whenever Interstate 65 or U.S. 30 is closed by an accident or construction, the traffic on 109th is much worse, he said.
Another problem is farm equipment using the road at a slow speed and backing up traffic. He asked what the impact would be of a combine driving through the roundabout.
Crews were out a few years ago to locate the underground utilities, and Mowry said he thought a signal was going in at that time, but nothing happened. Mayor David Uran said the city never approved a signal being installed there. Now that a roundabout is planned, Mowry said he decided to get a petition to try to change the city's plan.
"I had people lining up to sign the petition for a stoplight instead of the roundabout," he said.
He said accidents happen every day at the Valparaiso roundabouts and the curbs are broken all the time from people driving over them.
Uran said he wasn't a fan of roundabouts when he took office but he has since changed his mind. The accidents at roundabouts usually result in minor dents while accidents at signalized intersections are more serious and even fatal when people fail to stop.
Board member Michael Conquest said, "This is primarily a Winfield problem (because of traffic going west and making left turns). If we have a light at Iowa and one at Mississippi Street, people will be backed up between the signals and it will be worse. I don't know if a light is the answer."
Mowry said he sometimes dons a reflective vest and directs traffic in front of his house. Although Uran discouraged that as dangerous, Mowry said police officers have thanked him for doing it.
"We have to do something at that intersection for the quality of life," Uran said.
Uran said funding for a roundabout is in the transportation improvement plan for Northwest Indiana put together annually by the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. For now, its in the TIP for 2022, but he said it could be moved up if other projects in the plan aren't ready to go when they are scheduled.
The project is in the early stages of engineering by Butler Fairman Seufert, but Uran said the city has not even had a chance to provide its input on the design. The project is estimated to cost $1,138,500 with another $112,000 for the engineering and the right of way acquisition. It is slated to be 90 percent federally funded.
MICHIGAN CITY — Former FBI Director James Comey said he made the right decision when he announced just days before the 2016 election that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was under investigation over her use of a private email server.
After a summer of saying the investigation was closed, after finding nothing worth a prosecutor’s attention, the investigation team found more emails from her Blackberry among former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner’s account, Comey said.
He spoke before a sold-out crowd at the Purdue University Northwest Sinai Forum’s opening session at Blue Chip Casino’s convention center Sunday night.
Telling Congress about the reopened investigation could influence the election, but not telling Congress would be concealing information, which he refused to do, he said.
That could have rocked the nation and harmed the FBI’s reputation if the president faced criminal charges based on information that had been withheld, he said.
Comey said he decided to “float up, float forward and look back” while trying to decide what to do. That meant looking toward moral and ethical principles, including the basic values of truth and the rule of law, and deciding then what he would say about the situation in three years.
Political ramifications shouldn’t be considered, he decided.
“I’m sure there’s a diversity of opinions about the decisions I made, and that’s OK,” he said.
Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump in May 2017, expressed his disappointment about what he sees as the GOP straying from the party’s basic values under Trump.
“I’m so concerned about the assault on values by President Trump, particularly truth,” Comey said.
“The things that attracted me to the Republican Party I don’t recognize in my former party anymore,” he said.
“I think the Democrats need to win” at least one house of Congress to provide a balance of power in the federal government, he said.
Trump shouldn’t be impeached, Comey said, because that would fuel divisions within the nation.
Integrity and truth, “that’s how we’re going to re-center ourselves,” he said.
“What do we have in common, exactly, as a nation? It’s values,” he said.
Comey acknowledged saying previously that Trump is not morally qualified to lead the nation.
“I describe President Trump as a forest fire,” he said.
“There’s going to be tremendous damage to the center of our country,” he said, but the nation will see new growth as a result.
From a historian’s point of view, the story of the nation is a line of progress. It’s a jagged line, with temporary setbacks like the rise of the KKK after World War I and the rise of McCarthyism during the Cold War, but each time that fever broke, he said.
“We’re always making progress, getting better,” Comey said.
Comey asked the audience to reflect on their attitudes.
“Think about what you thought about George W. Bush two years ago,” he said, drawing applause from the audience.
Then he urged the audience to think about their views about Barack Obama two years ago.
“These were people who were centered on the values of this country — imperfectly, but centered on it,” Comey said.
Negative comments by Trump and others about the Justice Department won’t do any damage in the long run, because no president is in office long enough to do that much damage, he said.
Justice Department personnel are feeling the effects.
“It’s hurting them now and sapping their spirit,” Comey said.
However, they also believe in the agency’s mission and core values, and that’s what drives them, he said.
“There’s not a deep state, there’s a deep culture, so it cares deeply about the rule of law,” Comey said.
After his speech, Pam Lignell, of St. Joseph, Michigan, said she changed her mind about him.
“I was upset with him. I was angry” after the 2016 presidential election, Lignell said.
“I’m really glad I came,” she said. “It changed my attitude.”
Lauren Winger, of South Bend, said she was glad to hear his latest speech on his tour promoting his book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.”
“I’m glad he’s doing this. He needs to be heard,” she said.
Karen Mitseff knows how to stretch a dollar. She has to.
"If I make a pot of soup, I know I’m going to get six to seven meals out of it," said Karen Mitseff, 69.
Often she and friends Patty Vande Velde and Michelle Labus share meals. The Valparaiso residents do it out of friendship and necessity.
All three have hit hard times and struggle with paying bills, especially their rent.
They are among the thousands in Northwest Indiana who live in subsidized housing.
Affordable housing is at the center of a debate in Valparaiso, but it is not only a local problem, but a regional and national one as well. Agencies and officials work to find solutions, but the demand for quality housing at an affordable price far outweighs the supply.
Northwest Indiana households experience a higher rate of housing cost burden, particularly in Lake, Porter and Starke counties, said Melissa Bohacek, director of communications for Northwest Indiana Community Action in Crown Point.
NWICA assists residents seeking subsidized housing and are involved in projects to provide affordable housing to residents. They serve Lake, Porter, LaPorte, Jasper, Newton, Starke and Pulaski County residents not already served by housing authorities.
Bohacek said when the waiting list is opened to apply for the federal choice voucher program, they can have 100 to 200 people on at a time.
According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University's annual State of the Nation's Housing report for 2018, 47.5 percent of the nation's renters are cost burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers housing affordable if the cost is 30 percent or less of household income.
A Times examination of federal and state housing subsidies in Northwest Indiana found an uneven distribution of subsidized housing units within local communities. Valparaiso had the most in Porter County, while Gary, Hammond and East Chicago had the greatest number in Lake County. Some more affluent communities such as Winfield, St. John and Dyer have none, according to data from HUD and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.
Karen, Patty and Michelle
"My husband had three transplants," said Mitseff, including a liver transplant in 2003, followed by liver and kidney transplants in 2008.
Both times, Mitseff said, they filed bankruptcy and lost their half of a duplex to foreclosure.
"One medical thing, and your life is flipped upside down. You’re done," said Vande Velde, 64. "I had a carotid artery and three stents put in without insurance."
Vande Velde is on medication to prevent a heart attack, which would cost $385 a month had her doctor not provided enough free samples to get by.
In a few months, when Vande Velde turns 65, she will lose her long-term disability pay of $484 per month. That will leave her with just her $984 Social Security income unless she finds other assistance. Her monthly rent, because it’s subsidized through an Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority program, is $617.
Mitseff said her income is just under $1,500 a month. Her rent is $633.
Even worse off is Labus, 50, whose income is just $850 a month. Her rent is $613, which includes water and trash pick-up, but not NIPSCO.
Labus doesn’t own a car, relying on siblings for rides.
Her divorce was finalized on Valentine’s Day 2018, after 16 years of marriage.
Vande Velde said she and her husband had open heart surgery six months apart.
Vande Velde went first to The Caring Place for 40 days, then Housing Opportunities gave her an apartment at its complex just north of Vale Park Road on Calumet Avenue. The agency’s fresh start program at The Masters Apartments allowed her to rent an apartment for $350 per month for a year to get on her feet again.
The women often cook for each other.
"Going out to eat is not something that is in the budget," Mitseff said.
Neither is driving to Indianapolis to see her grandchildren. It’s a joy when they visit, she said.
A tale of two Lake County communities
Munster Town Manager Dustin Anderson said the town’s zoning codes allow for apartments in certain places, but those apartments charge market rent.
He hasn’t heard of anyone in the town talking about a need for affordable housing, he said.
According to HUD data, Munster is home to two federally subsidized housing units.
North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan, however, said his office’s clients seeking help with housing aren’t limited to East Chicago and Hammond.
"I think you’d be pleasantly surprised how many landlords accept Section 8 housing in Munster," Mrvan said.
Section 8, now called the Housing Choice Voucher program, is one of three subsidized housing programs offered by HUD.
In the Great Recession of 2008 to 2009, the township saw many residents seeking help with housing.
"We had a lot of clients from Highland and Munster who were lawyers and engineers," Mrvan said.
The township worked to help them retain their homes or get affordable housing.
With the unemployment rate lower now, Mrvan’s office is working to help veterans.
Mrvan said Lake County has shelters for men, and for women and children, but there aren’t any family shelters for people who need them.
Later this month, the "bunker" his office has been working on in East Chicago will host a ribbon cutting, with a veteran’s family moving in by mid-October.
The township partnered with the East Chicago Housing Authority, labor unions, Regional Mental Health and the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to remodel a home to serve as transitional housing. Financial literacy and job training, along with other care, will be provided.
"The whole goal is to help lift up a family that is on the verge of homelessness for those 24 months," Mrvan said.
At the end of two years, Mrvan said, he hopes the veteran’s family will move into a Habitat for Humanity home, leaving the "bunker" available to help the next family.
Affordable housing battles homelessness
Many people believe being homeless means sleeping under a bridge or in a park, packing possessions in a shopping cart. More likely, a person in the Region considered homeless is "couch surfing," staying with a friend or relative, moving from one accommodation to another.
"Affordable housing is probably one of the best options we can have to address homelessness," said Jordan Stanfill, CEO of Housing Opportunities, which serves Porter and LaPorte counties. The organization has 187 units, the majority of which are in Valparaiso. They aim to provide housing for 50 percent or less of a person's income.
"We offer affordable housing options in Portage, Valpo, Michigan City and LaPorte," Stanfill said.
Typical clients have limited incomes or are deep in debt. The first time something happens to their car or their health, they’re in trouble. The dollar can’t stretch far enough to give them shelter.
"The first thing to not get paid is their rent, and it starts that cycle all over again," Stanfill said.
Housing Opportunities offers financial counseling to help clients manage their money, although there are fewer options for spending cuts when income is low, Stanfill said. The agency also helps clients improve their job skills as a way to increase their income.
"It’s really hard to have a car and pay your rent" when your income is low, Standfill said. "That’s why Valpo is such a great focus for affordable housing, because of the bus transportation in the city."
Valparaiso offers both the V-Line, an intracity bus service, and the ChicaGo Dash, which transports commuters to Chicago and back.
Because it is the county seat, Valparaiso also has a Social Security office and other government offices people need to access.
Portage, on the other hand, doesn’t have a bus service, so getting to the Social Security office and some other places can be a logistical challenge, Stanfill said.
Through a partnership with the building trades class at Chesterton High School this summer, Housing Opportunities put a new modular home on a lot where a decrepit home once stood in Michigan City. The home will be sold to a new owner. Students will build another home next year.
"We’re always looking for options," Stanfill said.
Barriers to affordable housing
According to the Harvard University study, rising construction costs, land prices and regulatory barriers are making providing affordable housing more and more difficult.
That's combined with several other factors, including an uptick in seniors aging in place instead of moving or downsizing, causing a decline in affordable housing stock.
Millennials, many facing large student loan debt, also are facing issues entering the housing market, according to the report.
Local efforts to provide housing
East Chicago and Gary are beneficiaries of two recently announced housing developments that could ease the need for affordable housing in their communities.
More than a year ago, East Chicago was selected to be the home to new affordable housing with the help of state tax credits through Indiana's Moving Forward 3.0 program. The city was selected because it was grappling with the lead contamination crisis at the USS Lead Superfund site and the tear-down of the West Calumet Housing Complex.
Earlier this summer the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority was expected to authorize $22 million in bonds to help pay for East Chicago's senior housing development in the North Harbor section. The Carson Manor project is a partnership between a developer and the East Chicago Housing Authority.
Gary has been selected as a second site through the state project to construct a mixed use housing project at Seventh Avenue and Broadway. Construction is expected to begin next year.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 36 percent of Gary residents are in poverty. The average household income there is less than $29,000, nearly half of the national average.
"We have seen countless times how our citizens have benefited from housing that has been provided by federal housing programs," Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said last month.
Portage also may be looking at redeveloping property to allow for "quality starter homes," city redevelopment administrator Colin Highlands said.
The city is looking to expand its tax increment finance district to include the vacant Garyton Elementary School. Highlands said there has been discussion where the city would purchase the building, demolish it and offer the parcel of land for redevelopment for affordable homes.
In mid-August, U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., said he is calling for a federal task force to examine the impact of a shortage of affordable housing in Northwest Indiana.
Young, along with eight other senators, introduced legislation to study the problem and its effect on life outcomes for U.S. residents, including education, employment, income level, health, nutrition, access to transportation and poverty level in the neighborhood.
"As I travel throughout Indiana, I consistently hear about the need for more affordable housing," Young said.