SOUTH BEND — The mayor's office has released a report outlining the vacant and abandoned housing problem in the city and recommending possible solutions, including the targeted demolition of dilapidated structures and the formation of a local land bank to acquire, manage and dispose of such properties in a manner that improves the city's neighborhoods.
South Bend issues report on vacant, abandoned housing problem
Produced over the past 12 months by a special Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force consisting of city and county officials, private sector practitioners and neighborhood advocates, the 78-page report is intended to guide the city administration as it undertakes more proactive and ambitious action to improve the city's neighborhoods.
Beginning with a history of the problem, which the report attributes to a variety of factors, including an overabundant supply of homes in the city, the expansion of the city through annexation, increased housing options outside of the city, property tax reassessment and the foreclosure crisis, the report goes on to summarize the current situation and recommend possible solutions.
The report cites a 2011 survey showing a total of about 1,275 vacant and abandoned houses in the city. For the purposes of the report, a vacant and abandoned house is defined as a house in which no one has lived for at least 90 days and which has a code violation that has not been addressed for more than 30 days.
The report notes that about $2 million in federal funds have been allocated between 2007 and 2011 for the demolition of substandard housing in the city, and that federal funding has assisted with the removal of 373 structures and 500 buildings.
According to a map included in the report, the majority of vacant and abandoned houses in the city are on the northwest side and in the neighborhood surrounding Riley High School. Those areas are referred to in the report as "Reinvestment Areas," defined as areas in need of public investment based on a lack of demand in the housing market, inadequate private investment and widespread vacancy and abandonment.
The report also refers to other "market condition classifications," including "Conservation Area," "Stabilization Area" and "Revitalization Area." A Conservation Area is one in which the market is strong and little to no public intervention is needed; A Stabilization Areas is one in which there are signs of decline; and a Revitalization Area is one in which the market does not function as well as it could and in which assistance and/or incentives are needed to improve conditions.
Examples of Conservation Areas include Harter Heights, the North Shore Triangle and East Jefferson Boulevard; examples of Stabilization Areas include Chapin Park and River Park south of Mishawaka Avenue; and examples of Revitalization Areas include Western Avenue west of Olive Street, Monroe Park and the Triangle Neighborhood, according to the report.
The report recommends activities that should be implemented in each of the four areas in order to best address vacant and abandoned properties there. For example, demolition is recommended Revitalization and Reinvestment areas but not in Conservation or Stabilization areas. And receivership is recommended in Conservation, Stabilization and Revitalization areas but not in Reinvestment Areas.
In terms of options for addressing the problem, the report proposes demolishing the most dilapidated structures. For that purpose, the task force’s Code Enforcement sub-committee developed a form for taking all of the relevant information about a property and assigning it a "demolition priority score." The score is based on an inspection of the property, 911 call activity, neighborhood market conditions and historic preservation resources.