Dollar house program a bust

Generally speaking, houses may not be worth as much today as they once were, but what kind of house can’t be sold for a dollar?

Unfortunately, the City of South Bend has six examples, including the two and a half story structure at 923 E. Colfax.

The Colfax address is one of six homes that the city offered for sale earlier this year for a dollar apiece.
All six went unsold.

While the Colfax home isn’t in tip-top shape, that doesn’t mean it can’t be saved.

“It’s about 3,000 square feet of house,” said Jeff Vitton with the South Bend Department of Community Development. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity for the money, I’d say it needs about 80-thousand dollars worth of work if you contract everything out.”

That’s the catch. While the purchase price of the house is one dollar, a successful buyer would have to promise to do some $80-thousand dollars worth of work in the first year.

“We did have two houses in the middle of the block that sold for over $190-thousand,” said Roy Saenz who lives next door to the dollar house.

Perhaps he and others have dollars riding on its fate.

“The dollar home here it’s sitting here and we’re hoping that somebody will come and take it. On this particular block it’s the only empty house right now.”

While the neighbors might be anxious to see the home sold, the city was actually picky about potential buyers.

“We don’t necessarily want people to ‘flip’ the house,” said Pam Meyer, Director of the South Bend Department of Community Development. “We’re looking for new homeowners, people who would stay in the neighborhood.” The dollar house program requires participants to live in the home for three years.

The city also made it clear that it would only accept a limited amount of ‘do it yourself’ repairs. “Because of the city’s participation in the program we would require people to be licensed, bonded, insured to do things like plumbing and electrical,” said Meyer.

The failure to sell a single dollar house means the program won’t be repeated as-is, but it doesn’t mean the city is giving up.

“We're just going to go back to the drawing table and redesign the program, and or maybe offer a different alternative program, but these are key houses,
we bought them for that reason,” said Meyer.

Meyer says about a dozen people applied for the dollar house program this time around, but not one could provide proof that they had the financial backing needed to make repairs.

It’s possible the city might have to become more involved in financing in the future.

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