Criminal Justice

A Legacy of Decay: Blighted Buildings Hide Homicides

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By: Hilary Powell

October 27, 2014 — Boarded up, broken, and standing as a reminder of past steel industry boom.

There are 8,000 thousand blighted buildings within Gary city limits, according to a new report from the city and the university of Chicago.

“We recognize that there are a lot of um potentially dangerous things that can potentially happen with vacant buildings.”

Because Darren Deon Vann, the man charged this week with one count of murder, told police he hid the bodies of six Gary women he killed in five blighted homes, entities that are often afterthoughts are now at the forefront of strategy for city hall.

“It’s certainly of grave concern that he concealed his crimes through the use of abandoned homes in the city of Gary, although that does underscore that our approach is consistent and it’s the right thing to do,” says Gary mayor Karen Freeman Wilson. “Our prioritizing the abandoned structures that are in this city is in fact correct.”

Emmanual Ferguson, a resident who lives on 1800 block of east 19th street where the body of 28-year-old Teaira Batey was found, says blight makes his block dangerous.

“They found a body right here, you know,” he says. “It’s a school, like, not even two blocks (away) where little children play so it’s just kind of disturbing.”

On this day, more than three groups of school children passed by the home and another vacant property while we were filming.
“Kids just walk through riding they bikes and you know, we have corpse in this house,” Ferguson. “We want to make sure you know if we let our kids step outside that they’re going to be safe.”

Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson says her administration has been attacking tattered properties all year.

Just last month she watched alongside Indiana lieutenant governor Sue Ellspermann as demolition began with federal funds.

But the city’s director of development, Joseph Van Dyk says his department can’t afford to demolish all eligible properties.

“They’re just never enough resources,” he says. “It would be our dream to be able to knock down every vacant property and to secure every vacant house that needs to be boarded up temporarily but until there’s a lot more resources we work with what we have.”

He says Gary was recently awarded the largest demolition allocation in the state: 6.6 million dollars from the United States department of treasury’s Hardest Hit fund.

Gary City Hall officials say they plan to demolish 30 to 40 more blighted buildings by the end of the year. But with overgrowth like this and blighted buildings dotting the streets residents say their plan just isn’t enough.

“I actually think it’s not a block in Gary that doesn’t have a vacant property,” Ferguson says.

Van Dyk describes his job as one where he’s always trying to find new funding.

“8000 properties, that’s 80 million dollars,” he says, “so that’s a big price tag for a city like Gary.”

Officials say the clean-up is continuous. A board-up crew has been clearing homes, but the process is complaint-based.

Ferguson adds, “if they could get rid of these buildings I think a lot of people would feel a lot more safer.”

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