Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Endorsement for Mayor Ballard's Plan to Tear Down Abandoned Houses

I have criticized the Mayor so much during his first 18 months in office, that it is a pleasure when I can write praising one of his policies. Yesterday, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard unveiled an initiative to tear down long term abandoned houses. The Star reports:

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.


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.

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.


Unigov said...

2,250 homes a year ?

The average dilapidated house in Center Township may be worth only a few thousand dollars, but is appraised at $50,000. I used to own one.

2,250 homes times 50k to buy them, plus 8k per home to tear down, plus 5k per home for eminent domain lawyers = $130 million a year.

From a city that is so broke that it stopped mowing its right-of-ways this year.

Ballard is out of his gourd.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I don't think they're buying them through eminent domain. I didn't see that. Rather the law gives the city the right to take remedial measures, including bulldozing houses that are not fixed up. I don't think eminent domain is involved at all, but maybe I missed something.

The appraised value should reflect what a willing buyer and willing seller should pay, i.e. fair market value. So if they're worth only a few thousands, they shouldn't be appraised for $50,000. That's not to say appraisals always reflect fair market value. Far from it...especially during the heady days of plentiful mortgages and inflated appraisals to make them happen.

Unigov said...


Well, the city - irrespective of whatever bizarre state or municipal law our illustrious leaders have passed - cannot simply 'grab' properties. I read the summary of every state law introduced last year and all I can say is that brain damage must be a requisite for admission to the statehouse - here's my take on the worst bills from last session:

Anywho - let's say I've got a house on Hamilton Ave, that I boarded up, and I keep the lawn mowed. I'm waiting for the eastside economic miracle to roll through. Ballard may call my place an eyesore but he can't just take the house and bulldoze it.

My point about assessed value is that esp in Center Township, said value can have no relationship to market value. Given an abandoned home that's been taken over by drug addicts, the market value may seriously be less than zero, but the city is still loath to assess accurately. I had a house on Grant I was going to fix up (before I got my senses back) that was worth 15K but assessed at 61K.

Why doesn't the city assess accurately ? So they can foreclose.

I agree that the best thing to do with the worst of the housing is to tear them down. But based on the way the city assesses property, they could find themselves up against it legally.

I don't think Ballard has demonstrated the intellectual capability necessary to understand the issues around such takings...or, rather, Bob Grand and the NFL have not yet given Ballard a script to read from.

Cheers - B

Crossed said...

makes me think of Detroit