In Marion County, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 homes lie vacant. These abandoned properties fall into disrepair, become victims of vandalism, attract illegal drug use and are a stain on the community. Oftentimes, they remain unattended and decaying for far too long, with neighbors and local organizations unable to take action.
I’ve been working to address the issue of abandoned homes in Indiana for several years now. It’s a real problem that can give neighborhoods a negative reputation and stall community growth.
To understand why this problem has been difficult to tackle, it helps to understand Indiana’s current process for dealing with abandoned homes.
When a homeowner is no longer paying property taxes and the house is considered abandoned, it gets placed on a delinquency list by the county – a process which can take up to a year to complete. After the property is listed on the delinquency list, it is eligible for a tax sale after at least 21 days of notice is provided to the public and the homeowner.
By law, this sale process cannot extend beyond 171 days. If this period closes with no buyers, the property owner then has up to a year to reclaim the property by paying the tax sale lien. If the original homeowner does not take up this charge, the property can wind up with no buyers indefinitely.
As you can see, dealing with abandoned homes is an incredibly lengthy procedure that is often fruitless. Communities and neighbors are left burdened with this ongoing blight and safety concern, and have few solutions available to them.
I experienced these frustrations firsthand recently when an eastside Indianapolis church reached out to me looking for help with an abandoned property issue.
This local church sought to gain possession of a string of abandoned, dilapidated houses that stood empty for years. Church officials hoped to tear the houses down and build a community park. Unfortunately, the church had no legal avenue to pursue this development project.
That’s why I authored a law this year giving counties additional tools to transfer properties that languish in tax sales to a nonprofit organization, neighbor or other party who agrees to repair and maintain the property.
Senate Enrolled Act 433 went into effect July 1, and I hope it will lead other local organizations and concerned neighbors, like the Indianapolis church, to take action and turn these eyesores into positive developments for the area.
I’m sure many readers are aware of the Marion County Land Bank controversy. While I look forward to seeing the Ballard administration get to the bottom of this unfortunate incident, the behavior of a few bad actors should not cause us to hesitate in seeking a solution to the abandoned property problem in our community.
I believe SEA 433 is a strong step forward, but it is only a start to solving the abandoned homes crisis. Next session, I hope to author legislation shortening some of the time limits surrounding tax sales that hold these homes in legal limbo for an exceptionally long time.
Of course, the true solution to this unfortunate trend is preventing home foreclosures and abandonments in the first place.
This year, Indiana expanded its Hardest Hit Fund – a statewide program that offers financial assistance to homeowners who are at risk of mortgage loan default or foreclosure. I encourage struggling homeowners to seek assistance through this program by visiting www.877GETHOPE.org or calling 1-877-Get-Hope.
As always, if you have other ideas for how to improve our communities, please contact me at Senator.Merritt@iga.in.gov or 317-232-9400.