Lakeshore Report

Gary Effort Tears Down to Grow Green

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By: Hilary Powell

September 19, 2014 — Next to their flower-filled, manicured lawn, 82-year-old Coby Howard and his wife Catherine have had a crumbling home as their only neighbor since the 1970s.

But a new program in Gary meant to destroy dilapidated properties, might have more lawn looking as good as their own.

On this day they were witness to a beginning to the end of blight on their block.

“I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing: tearing it down,” Howard says.

Two abandoned buildings at 832 and 836 Virginia street came down next door to the Howard’s home. The second and third structures in the state leveled because of the Indiana Hardest Hit Program.

“I can see all the way back to the 8th avenue now,” Howard says. “Real nice. When you can’t see nowhere, it makes it look bad. You can’t see who’s coming in, can’t see see who’s coming out.”

Steps from the Howard’s home, Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson called the $6.6 million federally-funded project “overdue.”

“My focus is it’s on homes like these,” she says, “where people have remained in the city, have persevered, have maintained their properties, have trimmed their hedges, have done everything, and I believe that we owe neighbors like this all over the city a debt of gratitude.”

The buildings coming down mean property values are set to go up because housing experts say abandonment opens the door to blight.

“We know that these properties, depress home values right here,” says Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellsperman. “They really discourage others from making investments in their homes.”

Program officials say blight is contagious but so are the effects of reducing it. The Hardest Hit Program Funds will go to destruction of more than 400 vacant properties in Gary and city officials say that means neighbors will see fewer broken windows and more space for well, nothing.

Ending the eyesores is a visible benefit, but city officials say the resulting green fields will remain empty to create more community green spaces.

Officials from the city’s department of green urbanism say another they appear empty, the land fills a vital purpose. Green fields can help the city fulfill its EPA mandate to keep the city waterways clean.

“When we say green infrastructure we’re talking about ways in which we can manage storm water,” says Brenda Scott Henry, the city’s green urbanism director. “In essence, it’s telling us to make sure that we reduce pollution of storm water. When we install these green infrastructure, it serves as a filter. So, it allows the water to clean itself before it enters into our waterway.”

It’s a little known benefit that can also boost property values over time.

“They like to keep their property looking nice,” son Danny Hart says. “It’s nice to look past your hedges and then you see some more nice, even if it’s just a clean field, you know, that makes it nicer.”

Project officials say the program will also include green initiatives to recycle bricks and wood from demolition sites and create walking spaces.

Scott Henry says a series of community engagement meetings in the future will make sure residents have a say in building up beauty from the torn-down structures.

“It’s beautiful, beautiful,” Howard says.

Demolition efforts from the hardest hit funds are expected to last eighteen months. For more information on indiana’s hardest hit fund, residents can visit www.877gethope.org.

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