Independent Coalition for Our Neighborhoods

Neighbors Join in Modest Efforts to Embrace Abandoned Properties

Residents in neighborhoods that make up the Near Northwest and West Side [of South Bend, Indiana] — treasure troves of vernacular architecture — describe what is happening to help solve the abandoned property problem as nothing short of “a movement.” Almost everyone knows someone who bought a deteriorating property on his or her block, with civic duty being part of the financial calculus.

“We’ve had this problem for a long time,” said Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But, he added, “I think there’s definitely an uptick in people’s readiness to be part of the solution.”

Not far from the Portage project, Kathy and John Oxian were checking last week on three vacant houses they purchased at recent tax sales — one for as little as $750 — to avoid the prospect of demolition on their block of Sancome Avenue. And Connie and Tom Tooley were clearing a lot they bought from the city for $25. Their hope is to create a pocket park adjacent to downtown.

A former mayor, Stephen Luecke, bought a foreclosed property on his street, two doors down from his own 100-year-old home on Leland Avenue. He fixed it up and rented it.

“One of the challenges here is that property is so affordable, it’s hard to buy a house, fix it up and get back what you put into it,” Mr. Luecke said. “But we do have a core of people who love our old housing.”

In recent years, cities and counties across the country have increased their efforts to try to either maintain or demolish blighted properties in the wake of the mortgage foreclosure crisis. And federal programs designed to help stabilize neighborhoods are increasingly common — indeed, several are active in South Bend alone. But what makes South Bend’s methods interesting is the extent to which ordinary people of ordinary means are using their own hands and pocketbooks to be part of the solution to a complex problem.


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