- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

GARY, Ind. (AP) - Gary has more than 12,000 structures that are deemed blighted and many of them are inhabited, a survey has found.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she hopes the 18-month survey of 60,000 parcels will spark a high-tech strategy to deal with a decades of decay in the struggling city.

About 13 percent of the 12,394 structures deemed blighted by the survey were inhabited, a number that surprised officials, the Post-Tribune reported (https://trib.in/1zr3URM ).

“It cuts to the core of challenges we have around poverty and housing,” Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said at a news conference Wednesday.

The city’s abandoned home problem gained national attention in October when a suspected serial killer led police to the bodies of six dead women found within abandoned homes in a 5-mile stretch across the city.

About 200 volunteers, including graduate students in the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, went block by block conducting the survey. They identified 6,902 vacant houses and 554 vacant commercial buildings.

The figures are proving a baseline for technical assistance the city is receiving from the Center for Community Progress, a Washington-based organization that studies and analyzes urban blight solutions.

City Redevelopment Director Joseph Van Dyk said data from various sources such as code enforcement, police and zoning would be meshed together by the experts.

“We can get the best idea to allocate resources and identify opportunities for investment,” he said.

Freeman-Wilson estimated about 300 people were living in abandoned structures.

“We’re forming a task force to check on those folks,” she said. In some cases, they’re starting fires to stay warm and have destroyed the structure, she said.

Freeman-Wilson said the city also will increase efforts to hold owners of blighted structures accountable.

The city is in the process of demolishing more than 400 homes with a $6.5 million state grant it received last year.


Information from: Post-Tribune, https://posttrib.chicagotribune.com/

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