Demolition a Big Part of Vacant House Plan

South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke hopes to go on a tear. He announced plans to tear down 400-homes over the next three years.

The ambitious demolition schedule is part of the Mayor's plan to deal with the problem of vacant and abandoned homes.

Last fall, South Bend took inventory and discovered that there were 2,183 vacant homes in the city; 621 of those are considered both vacant and abandoned.

The high vacancy rate is blamed on a number of things. There is the 2003 reassessment that dramatically increased property taxes, and predatory lending that left many homeowners over-extended.

The Mayor has now turned his attention toward solutions.

He outlined a $6.8 million program to reduce the number of hardcore vacant homes by 70-percent.

"To be able to tear these houses down; these are homes that are not going to be reclaimed can't be reclaimed," said Luecke at a morning news conference.

The Mayor's plan triples the amount of funding available to demolish problem homes.

"We need to get those down; they're unsafe," said Jeff Gibney with the city's Redevelopment Department. "They're unsightly and they offend the neighbors who are taking care of their property across the street."

For every nine homes the city knocks down, it hopes one can be saved, purchased, renovated and reoccupied.

"The city will work to acquire homes that we will then turn over to not for profits in our community to be sold for a dollar," said Luecke.

The buyer would then have to agree to make at least $75,000 in repairs to the home.

It's the same type of strategy that has apparently worked on a smaller scale in the 600 block of Cottage Grove.

The program envisions spending $6.8 million over the next three years. About half of that could come from the public coffers, and the other half from private investment.

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