News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 16, 2013

Forum offers advice on how towns can fight blight

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

SULLIVAN — Indiana communities with abandoned and decaying homes can soon apply for help through the federal government’s Hardest Hit Fund.

The fund, first designed to help post-housing-bubble homeowners avoid foreclosure, is also being used to help local governments demolish blighted, vacant and abandoned homes, according to a public forum that took place Monday night in Sullivan.

Blighted homes can depress property values and are dangerous places that attract trespassing kids or those cooking methamphetamine, said Jacob Sipe, executive director of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which conducted the forum.

Sullivan County has dozens of blighted and abandoned homes that almost certainly qualify for federal demolition assistance, said county councilmen Larry Cox and Brian Pound, who were among nearly 20 people at the forum in the Sullivan City Park shelter house.

“We’ve got houses down in Carlisle animals won’t even live in,” Cox said during the forum.

The city of Sullivan may have even more. Mayor Clint Lamb, who helped organize the forum, said a large percentage of homes in the city might qualify for demolition under the program.

Under the Hardest Hit program, Indiana will get about $75 million for blighted home demolition. Of that, $5.7 million will be shared among the state’s 30 most rural counties, including Sullivan.

Applications for the federal money are likely to be due to the state around July, state officials said.

The forum explained how communities can qualify for some of that demolition money. Individual homes must be scored according to standards drawn up by the state. If a home scores high enough, it can qualify for demolition funding.

No homes will be demolished under the program unless they have first been purchased by a local government, Neyland said.

Vigo County, because of its larger population, is in a different “division” from Sullivan County. Vigo is grouped with 11 other counties sharing nearly $20 million in demolition funds.

Other Wabash Valley counties in the same division with Sullivan include Parke and Vermillion.

Monday’s forum was conducted by Sipe and Mark Neyland, director of asset preservation for the IHCDA and State Sen. Jim Merritt.