WRECKING THE NEIGHBORHOODS – THE CITY’S NEW ROLE

Residents and proponents of older neighborhoods struggle in a never-ending battle to save abandoned homes all the while attempting to convince residents that outward flight to cookie-cutter suburbs only hastens the decline of the urban core.

This past Monday’s Journal-Gazette contained a front page article by Dan Stockman describing a new policy the City wants to establish. The City wants to selectively demolish homes it thinks are eyesores and “cancers” in a neighborhood even though those homes may not be ready for the wrecking ball. Private property interests will again be assaulted to accommodate official views of how a neighborhood should look.

Since 1990, Fort Wayne has demolished over a 1,000 homes. Any guesses where those houses are located? Take a drive through the east central part of Fort Wayne. Vacant lot after vacant lot greets drivers as they head west on Washington or Berry or east on Wayne or Jefferson through the East Central Neighborhood. The southeast part of Fort Wayne also has its share of empty lots.

Recently, my own neighborhood – West Central – has seen increasing demolition of abandoned homes. In addition, a number of fires have broken out in vacant homes, leaving them prime candidates for destruction by the City. Fires leave homes unsafe and with little to restore, so the most obvious solution is to demolish the homes.

The following is an abstract of the City’s 2003 Housing Strategy Recommendations.

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Title City of Fort Wayne Housing Strategy Recommendations
Highlights
Administrative Processes & Streamlining X There is implicit recognition that the City permitting system is not satisfactory.
Check The Fort Wayne Housing Strategy suggests taking a customer satisfaction survey of the permit office.
Tax Policies X There is implicit recognition that tax policies discourage the redevelopment of housing.
Check The Fort Wayne Housing Strategy recommends a number of tax incentives to encourage redevelopment and rehabilitation.
Zoning, Land Development, Construction and Subdivision Regulations X There is implicit recognition that the City Zoning ordinance does not offer sufficient incentives to develop affordable housing.
Check The Fort Wayne Housing Strategy suggests that the City consider an inclusionary zoning ordinance.
Description In August 2003, the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, along with a number of private and non-profit partners, published a strategy to revitalize the city. In the report the city acknowledged that it needs to set goals and adopt a comprehensive set of policies for growth and neighborhood revitalization. The city and its partners identified twelve issues that affected Fort Wayne’s housing environment. From those issues they created eight goals and a number of coordinated steps to reach those goals. In those steps were a number of regulatory issues. In Recommendation 3.3 the report suggests that the city improve the permitting office’s customer service through conducting a customer satisfaction survey. They also suggest publishing all policies and procedures in short brochures and on a city Web site. Additionally, in Recommendation 5.2, the authors suggest the city develop a parcel-basemap to identify property in the city. Further, they suggest the creation of a housing development coordinator to assist developers with various development rules and regulations. (5.3) In Recommendation 5.6 they suggest revising the demolition protocol of the code enforcement program to reduce the chance of a building being demolished if it can be rehabilitated and sold instead. Further they suggest revising the tax code to encourage rehabilitation and redevelopment (5.7 and 5.8). They also support the consideration of inclusionary zoning ordinance provisions (8.7).
Publication Date 2003
Organization City of Fort Wayne, Indiana
Web Location http://www.cityoffortwayne.org/images/stories/community_development/strategic_planning/files/housing_recomm.pdf

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Demolishing homes in the urban core creates empty lots, which, in turn, decreases the property tax base. A list of properties currently up for demolition can be found at the City’s website. The City appears to be working at cross-purposes in that it stresses saving the urban core and undertakes revitalization efforts on one hand and on the other hand seeks to put in place a new policy which will only hasten demolition of homes the City deems unworthy of saving.

The new policy will allow the City to determine not only the terms of demolition of abandoned homes which has been within its purview but also the terms of demolition for those homes not yet ready to be torn down. All for the sake of its own vision of our urban neighborhoods.

If our City’s urban core is to be saved, continued demolition of existing, older homes is not an acceptable solution. Instead, the City should be providing every possible incentive to buyers to return to the urban core and revitalize the older homes instead of providing the very wrecking ball to destroy those homes.

West Central Neighborhood – Historic neighborhood with older homes

East Central Neighborhood – older neighborhood showing the effects of demolition. Notice the empty lots and lower density than the West Central Neighborhood.

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
This entry was posted in Cities and Towns, Fort Wayne, Government, Local Government, Politics, West Central Neighborhood and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to WRECKING THE NEIGHBORHOODS – THE CITY’S NEW ROLE

  1. J. Q. Taxpayer says:

    Charlotte,

    You seem to be more in touch with this issue then I am. I hope you can fill in some blanks for questions I have.

    1- Since you live in the West Central area do you know of any homes on the TARGET LIST to be torn down?

    2- Are these homes still owned by someone other then a government unit?

    3- Can these homes toured to see the real condition of them? This would maybe inculde professional contractors to view what would be needed to bring the home up code and use.

    4- Currently I believe the City tears down a house and places a lein against the landowner with regards to the given property. Is that correct?

    I have some ideas in how SOME houses located in some areas could be rehabed and put fully back on the tax rolls. Before spelling it out I need a better understanding of how the properites set now. Maybe if you do not know the answers we could get Karen Goldner to assist me.

    Thanks

  2. Charlotte,

    I don’t know if you read my blog back in May. At that time, I posted something about the day care center that I used to go to as a child (Stinson’s Day Nursery). Phil Marx was nice enough to stop by the place (located at Dalman Street – the southeast side that you speak of) and take photos for me. Also, I stopped by there about a month ago (when I was home) because I wanted to see the place before it met its fate (aka the wrecking ball).

    It’s completely sad. The place looks structurally sound. It’s large. It has lots of space in the back. I don’t know why it’s going to get torn down.

    I really wish someone would come by and re-hab it. It used to be downright gorgeous on the inside.

  3. I agree that the city should not be demolishing structurally sound houses. At the same time, the city does not need to bribe people into moving into neighborhoods that they aren’t otherwise inclined to live in.

    The reason why there is a glut of house right now is because of the Baby Bust 30 years ago. Few births during the 1970′s means few first time buyers today. But if the city tears down good homes now, there will be a shortage when Echo Boomers born in the 1980′s start turning 30. Housing demand will go up during the next decade. Young people are attracted to low cost housing.

  4. Robert:

    Interesting point about the Baby Bust of 30 years ago. I wonder, then, if there was a Baby Bust, why Fort Wayne and other cities are continuing to build and build creating more subdivisions? Could it be that developers, construction companies, and real estate companies have the power to influence building strategies despite evidence to the contrary that fewer homes are needed?

    It seems to me that if there are now plenty of homes in the suburbs then why not provide incentives to potential home buyers to rehab homes in the core of the cities? After all, if a structurally sound home is already available, it seems that would save money because the actual construction phase is bypassed. Renovating older homes that still have many good years left seems to me to be a better idea than tearing them down to fulfill some vision that may or may not be successful.

    Finally, perhaps instead of looking at incentives as a bribe, why not look at them as providing any opportunity that might not otherwise have been available? You mentioned that young people want low cost housing, and maybe rehabbing the older homes is a way to provide that.

    After all, when I drive through and by the various suburbs, I have to tell you, I find myself wondering how on earth people pay for these homes.

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