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February 7, 2014

Indiana to spend millions tearing down abandoned homes

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana plans to spend $75 million to tear down thousands of abandoned homes. For cash strapped communities, the program aims to help wipe out blight from neighborhoods plagued by plummeting property values and rising crime.

The money targets he “worst of the worst” properties — vacant houses that have become eyesores and have no chance of being reclaimed — in communities of all sizes.

Indiana is only the third state to tap a blight-elimination program that uses money originally set aside by the U.S. Treasury Department for mortgage relief. Unlike Michigan and Ohio, which used funds for large-scale demolitions in big cities, Indiana officials will divide up the money across the state.

“We know abandoned homes are a poison in every community,” said state Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, who helped push for the program.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann announced the program this week. During a “listening” tour that took her to every county last year, leaders throughout the state identified abandoned homes as one of their most difficult obstacles, she said.

“Unfortunately, Indiana has the dubious distinction of having the highest percentage of abandoned foreclosed homes in the country,” Ellspermann said.

Local governments must apply for the blight-elimination money, and the process is competitive. Local officials can increase their changes by showing a property will be used for redevelopment or for community green space, or that it will be put up for sale to neighbors. State officials said there’s enough money for about 4,000 demolitions.

The program is funded through the federal Hardest Hit Fund, an offshoot of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The fund was established in 2010 to help homeowners avoid foreclosure in states hit hardest by the 2008 recession.

Indiana received $221 million, primarily to help low- and moderate-income families avoid foreclosure. The state spent about $30 million of that Hardest Hit money by late last year, helping families with mortgage assistance payments. Another $63 million in mortgage assistance payments has been set aside for families currently enrolled in the program. 

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Barbara Brewster has been the organ player at Faith Lutheran Church in Jeffersonville for the past 50 years. Brewster began playing organ with the church in August of 1964 at the age of 17.

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