South Bend reaches vacant and abandoned housing goal
By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune
September 23, 2015
SOUTH BEND — The city of South Bend marked the end Tuesday of an effort to address 1,000 vacant and abandoned houses in 1,000 days.
Despite early setbacks related to the weather and asbestos issues, the city reached the milestone 62 days ahead of schedule.
Of the 1,016 houses addressed over the past two-plus years, 512 were demolished or deconstructed and 378 were repaired, according to information provided by the city.
Another 126 have been contracted for demolition by the city or as part of a federally funded Blight Elimination Program administered by the state.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he expects the majority of the houses under contract for demolition to come down before the Nov. 24 deadline.
“This is a good day, and I’m excited for the road ahead in our community,” the mayor said during a press conference Monday in front of a restored home in the 600 block of Clemens Street.
He described the achievement as “a great landmark in this administration and the life of the city.”
Praise for the initiative has not been universal.
Notably, critics have complained that the effort has focused too much on demolition and not enough on repair, and that the city has done a poor job maintaining the resulting vacant lots.
Pressed on the issue as a candidate, Buttigieg convened a Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force shortly after taking office in January 2012.
The task force delivered a report on the problem in April of the following year, at which time the mayor announced the 1,000 house goal.
Speaking Monday, Buttigieg estimated about 300 vacant and abandoned houses remain in the city, noting the problem “is never 100 percent solved” but is now “manageable.”
“We had all kinds of challenges, and we learned a lot of lessons the hard way,” he said of the process. “But we learned as a community that we do have what it takes to address the problem.”
The city spent about $10 million tackling the issue, which included about $8.5 million in local funds and about $1.5 million in federal funds, Buttigieg said.
Most of the local funding came from the settlement of environmental claims related to the old Studebaker and Oliver industrial sites and from economic development income tax revenue, he said.
Buttigieg said the city will remain focused on the problem moving forward, “but now it’s more about holding the line and looking to the future.”
There also are plans to reconvene the Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force, he said, to discuss lessons learned and next steps.