SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Renters are on the radar as a top priority for community leaders who held a housing summit Friday in South Bend.
The city is among the Top 20 cities across the United States in highest tenant eviction rates. South Bend ranks 18th in the most recent figures from 2016.
While the sky isn’t necessarily falling on the South Bend rental market, the summit audience at the Charles Black Center saw plenty of pictures of apartment ceiling tiles that did — including one that landed on a child’s playpen.
“Which is why we think we need to do some proactive inspections, so that a majority of landlords who are doing the right thing are protected and those who aren't receive the enforcement actions that are needed to get them to do the right thing,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said.
The Buttigieg administration has placed its proposed rental inspection program before the South Bend Common Council for consideration.
The situation is apparently hard for tenants to deal with on their own. Take the example of a tenant who woke up to find a frozen bottle of dish washing liquid in a unit warmed only by space heaters.
“That tenant complained repeatedly and then they called code enforcement, and code enforcement, because there were children in the house, was obligated to call Child Protective Services. Essentially, they were told they had to get out or lose their children, and so nothing happened to the landlord,” Notre Dame Clinical Professor of Law Judith Fox said. “And what happens is, once somebody’s been evicted, then it’s on their record and then they can’t get another place except for with a bad landlord, and then you know we’ve got another conditions problem and they get evicted again, or they move out because of the conditions, and so we end up with this cycle of living in substandard housing.”
Fox also stated that there hasn’t been any new public housing built in the area for more than 20 years.
The summit brought together local and federal officials alike.
U.S. Senator Todd Young of Indian is working on legislation to launch a nationwide affordable housing task force to lead the search for solutions.
“This is particularly a major issue for South Bend, with South Bend in the Top 20 in the country in terms of eviction rates. One out of every seven rental units as recently as 2016 had an eviction in it.”
Young also said a portion of the Trump tax cut might help the situation setting up “Opportunity Zones” in census tracts with low-income residents and offering incentives for businesses to locate in those zones.
“These Opportunity Zones, many of which will be located right here in South Bend, Indiana, will provide an incentive for investors to invest in business to create jobs, to create wealth in this community. That, of course, will put more money in the pockets of your local residents and they’ll have more money to afford housing.”
At this point regulations are still being written for the Opportunity Zone program.