Indianapolis homeowners lead battle against abandoned properties

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (August 9, 2015) -- How many abandoned properties are there in Marion County?

Nobody knows, least of all city officials.

The last time anyone counted it was 2003, and Ball State University students estimated there were between six and ten thousand abandoned properties citywide.

Since that time, the home foreclosure crisis hit, the FBI raided the city's Land Bank and seized its records and federal funds to improve neighborhoods dried up.

And every other property in the 1100 and 1200 blocks of Udell Street is either occupied, abandoned or vacant.

The dead end street at the fringes of the ANWAR community resembles a ghost town.

"It used to be a real lively neighborhood. Everybody around here knew everybody," said resident Robert Davis. "The house next door...it's been vacant since '07."

Democrat for Mayor Joe Hogsett picked this neighborhood, which just lost a grocery store and is about to lose a bank, for his announcement that if elected, he would launch a survey of every abandoned property in Indianapolis.

Republican Chuck Brewer said he would work with the Indy Chamber to develop programs for the revitalization of Indianapolis neighborhoods.

The man who will be Indianapolis' next mayor can start down at the end of Udell Street where James Everett said he has half the $7000 he needs to fix up  a house that's been empty ever since his dad died a year ago.

"The outside it's already pretty much ready but I want to do something different with it far as on the inside," said Everett. "What I want to do is put some new drywall up and put some new tile down on the floor and maybe upgrade the kitchen."

Everett said once it's renovated, the house could be valued at $35,000 and priced for a young family trying to start out on a quiet street with potential.

"It makes a big difference because basically when you doing that it shows the community outside of this neighborhood that people are willing to keep their stuff up to par and are actually trying to renovate their property and bring the value back up to the area."

That's what Ila Mitchell thought when he bought an abandoned property from the city at West 32nd Street and Graceland Avenue for $4500, convinced a bank to loan him $45,000 and remodeled a home now worth twice as much.

"I actually live in this neighborhood. I live at 36th and Salem so this is actually my neighborhood," said Mitchel who son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren now live in the house. "It's just not about making money but you got to make something."

In 2008 the city of Indianapolis leveraged a $28 million federal grant into $78 million of private investment to target abandoned properties in four communities that were identified as close to the tipping point.

"In the areas that we worked on we created 518 housing units," said John Bartholomew from the Department of Metropolitan Development, "12 pocket parks, demolished 301 vacant and unsafe structures, built a neighborhood youth center, purchased 620 vacant tax foreclosed properties for future development in that area."

Bartholomew said assessed property values climbed $8 million in the neighborhoods which included the Mapleton/Fall Creek community.

Still, the city does not know how many abandoned properties it has due to the enormity of the task, the risk to surveyors, the lack of funding and the FBI's possession of many of the documents it seized in the corruption investigation into the Land Bank.

Robert Davis would like to buy the property next door to him from the city if someone from Renew Indianapolis, which took over for the Land Bank, would return his call.

"We're going to have to get rid of these vacant houses," he said.

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