The South Bend Common Council is being asked to ‘check into rehab.’ That is, the idea of offering tax breaks to homeowners who rehabilitate distressed dwellings.
“We wouldn’t be proposing this if we didn’t think it would help but we shouldn’t oversell it either, it’s not the magic bullet, it’s not the panacea, it’s not going to solve all these problems,” said Marty Wolfson with the Community Forum for Economic Development. “It will help some people who are trying to revitalize their neighborhood in some small way.”
Right now, the City of South Bend only grants tax abatements for the construction of brand new homes.
The policy has helped spur a sort of high end housing boom in and around the section of Notre Dame Avenue just south of campus. A boom big enough to give some council members second thoughts.
“It’s a little hard after you've approved 37 (abatement requests) to tell the 38th person no,” said Council Woman Valerie Schey, South Bend’s Third District.
But Schey says that the council did ‘just say no’ to the very first request for tax abatement in the so-called Triangle Development south of Notre Dame.
The Community Forum for Economic Development is now trying to direct the council’s attention to neighborhoods where new homes are least likely to be built.
“We’re not trying to give a blanket abatement to any kind of change or rehabilitation,” said Wolfson. At this juncture the proposal would limit access to the program to homes with an assessed value of $86,000 or less. Qualifying homeowners would receive a five year abatement on the portion of the tax bill that specifically stemmed from the increase in assessed value caused by the improvement in question.
“There’s a real need to rehabilitate homes. We can’t solve this problem of vacant and abandoned housing by simply tearing down homes and creating vacant lots, we have to as much as possible rehabilitate existing homes because that’s the way you preserve neighborhoods,” said Wolfson.
“Well I think it should be considered since we as a city are investing millions and millions of taxpayer dollars into the vacant and abandoned initiative, it would be nice to have an alternative strategy that would encourage private investment,” said Council Woman Valerie Schey.
The idea is in the early stages of discussion, with many details left to be ironed out. “We want to make sure that we’re very careful with this not to perhaps encourage those investors that like to come in and flip properties,” said Valerie Schey.