Ways to Fight Urban Blight

By: Kari Huston
By: Kari Huston

The problem of vacant homes is spreading like a plague, according to residents of some South Bend neighborhoods

Tonight city officials took a step towards stopping that. They got out into the community and listened to the residents. “Some people think it's the higher tax rates and it is,” says the city’s new Executive Director of Community and Economic Development, Jeff Gibney. “It's also the crime rate. It's the housing conditions. It’s the outward migration from urban neighborhoods to suburban neighborhoods. You put it all together and then we have to decide, what's our tool kit/”

Gibney is asking for suggestions. There are 1562 vacant homes in south bend and 621 vacant and abandoned homes, according to a code enforcement survey done in April of 2006.

Some residents say change starts with community organizations. “We can pick up the trash. We can watch the children. We can make the call to police,” suggests Becky Kaiser. “Many of the elderly in these neighborhoods are afraid to call the police.”

Other residents believe South Bend City Council should revise its tax abatement ordinance, as they have considered doing. “It would provide incentives for companies to invest in the inner city,” says Marty Wolfson. “It would provide incentives for companies that are paying good wages and that's the kind of economic development that we need.”

Communities in Arizona could serve as models for South Bend. There, multi-unit rental communities are forcing criminals out. “If you live in the housing and either you, a family member or a friend commits a crime on that property you are subject to eviction,” explains Jerry Niezgodski, who has researched the program.

Mayor Steve Luecke says Tuesday night's meeting will help guide where the city goes next in dealing with vacant homes.

If you are a member of a neighborhood organization or a private developer looking to follow up with the city of South Bend, contact the Department of Community and Economic Development located on the 12th floor of the County-City building or call 235-9251.


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