INDIANAPOLIS– At the end of a small, dead-end street, a house slowly comes apart at the seams. A gutter peels free from the fascia board and hangs in the wind. Insulation, torn from the walls and attic, piles in the front lawn. Shingles sag in depressions and the roof pulls back from the walls.
To the residents of Goodlet Avenue, the vacant house deteriorating at the end of their street is anything but good.
It’s an eyesore. It’s a blemish. It’s a danger and it’s something they’re tired of living next to, tired of watching it slowly rot.
“I’m just ashamed when I have company,” said Barbara, who shares a property line with the vacant house. “When they go around back on my patio and see all that… I’m just embarrassed.”
For nearly five years, Barbara has been trying to get something done about the vacant house next door to her. She’s reached out to the City, to the Mayor’s Action Center, to the health department. But while the number of her phone calls and complaints grew, the house only worsened.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Barbara said.
A nightmare that’s threatening to drive Barbara away from the home she’s lived in since 1996.
Tired of not just the eyesore, Barbara fears the dangers the vacant home presents. Dangers such as squatters and thieves, whom Barbara said she’s had to call the police about on multiple occasions.
In 2020, the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services reported having to board up the property twice. In the years prior, BNS said they’ve also had to board the property on several occasions.
“I’m scared to death,” Barbara said, claiming neighbors on Goodlet Avenue feel the same about the vacant home and the unsavory attention it attracts.
For many living next to vacant houses that have fallen into disrepair, it can be easy to lose hope and to feel like a monthly mowing of the weeds is the most the City can offer in way of help against an eyesore, or an impending collapse.
“It does take a little bit of time, and it takes an immense amount of patience,” said Brian Madison, director of the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services (BNS).
BNS oversees vacant properties such as the house on the end of Goodlet Avenue and hundreds of others throughout the city of Indianapolis. Madison knows the process and he knows that for many the grinding wheels of bureaucracy can feel so slow moving, one might not even notice them turning.
“Real estate is never a quick process in terms of the change and improvement that could happen,” Madison said.
While some may think neighbors calling the city about a troubled property may annoy or frustrate a government official, Madison said his office welcomes it. After all, he says citizens reporting such houses is often the first step on the road to rehabbing or demolishing these properties.
“Raising the issue like they’ve done is a good thing,” he said.
For anyone living next to a vacant home, or those like Barbara and her neighbors on Goodlet Avenue wondering how much longer until they see more significant action, understanding the process can help set realistic goals and help guide all parties to a resolved outcome.
Once notified of houses falling out of repair, BNS sends inspectors to the property to determine the severity of the issues and if the deterioration threatens the structural integrity of the house versus solely harming the aesthetics.
Madison said the homes are scored, which help determine the penalties leveled against the property owner. Along with helping determine repair versus demolition.
In some cases, that’s as far as it goes, Madison said. The property owner comes into compliance and voluntarily repairs his or her property.
“When it becomes more serious, typically they’ve neglected the property,” Madison said. “They abandoned the property and so the fines are the mechanism to get it to change hands to someone who will do something with the property.”
On Goodlet Avenue, the vacant home at the end of the street has tallied up the maximum amount of fines: $5,000. Not to mention additional accrued costs due to upkeep of the home by the city, for the mowing and weed whacking.
For vacant homes where the property owner won’t voluntarily come into compliance, sometimes the only hope of salvation for neighbors is tax sales.
In February, the Goodlet Avenue vacant home was sold in tax sale. But this, much like the rest, is just another turn on a long road trip toward resolution.
“Somebody losing their property is a significant event in law. There are certain steps you have to take along the way. It’s not necessarily the quickest of processes,” Madison said.
After a property goes into tax sale, the property remains in a redemption period for one year, giving the original owner one final chance to bring the property into compliance. But once the redemption period ends, the property and the responsibility of the repairs or demolition falls into the hands of a new owner.
A new start, and maybe a not so distant hope for the neighbors of Goodlet Avenue and every other neighborhood where a vacant home casts shadows on their street.
But Brian Madison and the Department of Neighborhood and Services knows that fines and tax sales isn’t and shouldn’t be the only solutions. He knows that people’s quality of life are impacted by these eyesores that sometimes become lightning rods for danger.
“The quality of life and neighborhoods touches all of us,” he said. “I’m not just some bureaucrat in local government sitting in an office somewhere. I live in the neighborhoods. I see these things every day. There is a passion that a lot of us have for this.”
Working with other organizations and departments like Renew Indianapolis and the Department of Metropolitan Development, Madison hopes more options and solutions can be found, considered, and implemented.
“I would just say continue to identify issues you see out there, let us know what those are, we’re willing to be flexible and try new approaches for things so things can get done quicker and improve the quality of life,” Madison said.
For Barbara, her future on Goodlet Avenue is still uncertain as long as the home next door continues to fall apart piece by piece outside her window. Even the prospect of a new owner come 2021 may not bring the only solution she feels is left.
“I want it torn down,” she said. “You can’t rebuild that house. You’d have to tear that down to rebuild it.”
For those wishing to check the status of vacant properties in their own neighborhoods, go to the city’s Citizen Access portal where specific property orders can be viewed and monitored.