Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Demolition ain't Development.

We can all agree that Indianapolis has an abandoned home problem. The City has identified 4,500 buildings that are abandoned.  Some burned out, abandoned homes in Indianapolis would probably never be rehabbed or repurposed as anything other than housing for squatters.  Most of us are ok with those houses being demolished.  But the City's new plan to demolish 1,200 buildings by the end of 2011 and take down an additional 800 -- a total 2,000 ---  by the end of 2012 has preservationists and neighborhood advocates rightfully concerned, even outraged.

Looking for a quick fix with a sudden influx of money from the water utility sale, but without any redevelopment plans in line, the City/County Councillors and the Mayor allocated $15,000,000 to demolition and $0 to any other options that might save some of these homes and fill them with new neighbors.

If you have a gut feeling this isn't a good plan, you're right.  Here are just a few of the salient reasons why.

1. All Smart Growth and New Urbanism tenets say that urban density is the best way to achieve a sustainable city.  Empty lots between houses is counter to urban density.  Empty lots lower walkability scores, don’t make the highest use of urban infrastructure and don’t use the embedded energy of the existing buildings. 

2.  While many houses may need to be demolished, clearly many on this list are not unsafe and many are saveable.  The buildings were not surveyed by structural engineers.  Health and Hospital, the agency that makes the "unsafe" call, does not do interior investigations. The decision of which buildings to add to the list was based on a wide variety of criteria, which may or may not include a hole in the roof, a hole in the foundation, tall grass, and/or police runs.  But, many structural issues are repairable and demolishing a house should never be based on police runs.  The bad tenants will just move to another house.  We can't demolish every house they live in until they eventually move out of the county.  Or at least, we shouldn't.

3. Right now, the City owns only a tiny percentage of the buildings to be demolished.  Which means that any future development would be reliant on the absentee landlords being found and willing to sell the lots to developers.  

4. This plan is a quick fix that will result in empty untended lots still in the possession of landlords who have already failed to maintain them.  Health & Hospital will be putting thousands (or more) of extra dollars into maintaining these 2,000 lots after the demolitions.  More money down the drain.

5.  According to Reggie Walton, Assistant Administrator of the Abandoned Housing Initiative, the great majority of these properties are “severely delinquent” in property taxes.  This means the City could take the properties and make them available for purchase. But the City has no intent to take the properties, which means little to no potential for development.  [See Point 4]

6. Few if any of these properties have been offered up for sale.  At least some might sell if the City would take the property and put them on tax sales or find other ways to get them into the hands of new owner/occupants. 

7. Once the demolition has occurred the lien for demolition goes onto the property.  Unless the original landlord is willing to pay the demolition cost, or the City is willing to forgive the fees, any new owner would have to pay off the cost of the demolition lien, as well as buy the property, adding even more cost to the properties and making their eventual reuse even more unlikely.

8. The bond was written to allocate all the money for demolition. It could and should be rewritten to allocate some for uses that are positive, such as rehab grants, stabilization programs, urban homesteader grants, and $1 house programs (such as the one introduced by Republican mayor William Hudnut). 

9. In most cases, even neighbors who complain about the abandoned homes would rather see them filled with new homeowners than see them demolished.  Alternative programs could use the same monies now designated for demolition to bring urban homesteaders into these buildings. 

If you agree that this wholesale demolition is a bad idea, please join the Facebook page,