Indy risks losing millions for abandoned home demolitions

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 17, 2016)-- Indianapolis officials are scrambling to meet upcoming deadlines in order to avoid losing more than $6 million in federal funding for the demolition of abandoned homes around the city.

Indianapolis is at risk of losing the federal funding because the city has fallen behind and missed several benchmark deadlines associated with the program. The $6.3 million federal grant was awarded in July 2014 when the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority reached a deal with the U.S. Treasury Department. According to the program, Indianapolis is to use the money to tear down 300 blighted homes by the end of 2017.

As of now, only about 10 homes have been torn down and the city has already been given two extensions to avoid losing the money because of missed deadlines. One deadline passed in May 2015, when the city was to have spent half of the money.

Part of the problem, according to those involved with the program, is the complicated set of rules associated with the funding. Under normal circumstances, the city can declare a property blighted and demolish it regardless of who owns the property. Under this program, the home being demolished must first be owned by a non-profit organizations partnered with the city. That non-profit partner must then demolish the home on behalf of the city.

Renew Indianapolis is the non-profit partner working with Indianapolis on this program. Executive director Katy Brett says the process of transferring deeds and titles can take several months.

“The design of the program and some of the changes on the city’s side added some delays,” Brett said.

Brett also said staff turnover between the Ballard and Hogsett administrations may have further slowed down the process.

“Folks at the city, I know, are just as anxious and are working hard to get the properties transferred to us and get the money flowing so that we can help tear those properties down,” Brett said.

Jeff Bennett, Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, said the delays and urgency with the program were inherited by the Hogsett administration. He stopped short of pointing the finger at the Ballard administration for getting a slow start and missing benchmark deadlines.

“Some of this was, I think due to the fact that this was a new program, new source of federal funds that cities across the state could access,” Bennett said. “And maybe unclear rules how the money could be spent.”

Bennett said progress is being made and he is confident the city will get back on pace with demolitions in time to avoid losing the funding.  29 homes are currently bid to be demolished and another 40 have been identified for demolition.  Bennett hopes to have another 100 homes identified within the next couple weeks.

“We need to be in the low 100s to 150 by June of this year,” Bennett said.  “I think we’re going to get there.”

But Bennett said he is also concerned that the rush to keep up could cause the program to suffer.

“Because we’re now in a hurry, we can’t be as strategic in picking out which houses really need to be demolished the most,” Bennett said.

 

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