I noticed in the comment section attached to the article that many people made the remark that it would be better for values of homes in a neighborhood if the vacant house was fixed up rather than demolished to create a vacant lot. Absolutely. But as the Mayor correctly notes that would happen in a "perfect world." In the real world, where we all live, many of those homes are never going to be fixed up and have become havens for crime, the homeless, and squatters. They drag down home prices. The choice is not between a fixed up home and a vacant lot. The choice is between a run-down, boarded up abandoned home and a vacant lot.
In a perfect world, the 7,000 to 9,000 abandoned houses in Indianapolis would be rehabbed, repainted and resold to families needing a home.
But the reality, according to Mayor Greg Ballard, is that many of these homes are beyond repair, belong to deadbeat owners and need to be demolished.
So on Tuesday, he unveiled a new goal: Tear down about 2,250 of them over the next five years, creating vacant lots until the land can be put to new uses.
"We can't 'demo' our way out of the problem, and we don't intend to do that," Ballard said. "But even a vacant lot can be a nice, valuable green space or be converted into an urban farm, which a lot of neighborhoods like."
The announcement Tuesday was the latest salvo in Ballard's ongoing struggle to solve a problem that has plagued the city for years. Vacant houses, frequently broken into even when they're boarded up, can attract crime and drag down the value of neighboring homes.
Removing a home also removes much of the potential for crime. What's left is the kind of open space kids might love to play in. If someone came along with a plan to use the lot, he or she could buy it from the city.
While many people rush to bash the owners of these buildings, there is another side of the story. Ever try to fix up a house in a crime-infested, drug-riddled neighborhood? The owners of these buildings can invest a fortune in repairs and appliances only to see what they installed stolen and sold to scrapyards or on the streets.
Bulldozing these abandoned homes can have positive benefits to the neighborhood, besides reducing crime. Doing so creates more green space in the city. I'll be the first to say, however, that the city needs to do a better job of maintaining green spaces, including the vacant lots it owns. But the idea behind the demolition of abandoned homes is correct.
I saw a report recently that talked about Gary, Indiana. Gary is one of the newest cities in Indiana, not becoming incorporated until the 20th Century. Built as a residential community for steel workers, the city has been losing populations for decades. Whole blocks of homes have been abandoned. The report discussed the bulldozing of those homes and how whole swaths of green space have been created, green space which may eventually return to farmland. The report mentioned the same thing going on in another Rust Belt city, Detroit.
Indianapolis is a long way from being the crumbling city of Gary or Detroit. But bulldozing long-time abandoned homes is a cost-effective way of dealing with a problem that has plagued inner city communities. Other possible solutions, tax breaks to remodel the homes or the city itself rehabbing the homes, would be incredibly expensive and would produce only modest success.
Congratulations to the Mayor for a realistic plan for dealing with abandoned homes.