Muncie IN fights blight with federal dollars

Community ready to clear inner city of abandoned, vacant homes, businesses

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) - Federal dollars will clear some blocks like along North Jefferson Street where empty houses outnumber family homes.

Community Development Director Terry Whitt Bailey celebrated the community's award of $2.9 million, the most of any Indiana city in the latest round of Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination.

Neighboring Anderson got $1.4 million with Evansville seeing another $1.7 million out of the $10.8 million allocated through the state.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann made the announcement from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. Last year, she came to the community to talk about federal money to clean up the inner city and remove old and abandoned housing.

Muncie is like other Midwest cities has hundreds of vacant homes and abandoned factories and business fronts as sprawling suburbs and towns like Fishers flourish.

While Mayor Dennis Tyler's administration has given emphasis to demolishing abandoned properties and cleaning vacant lots, the task is more than local government can afford.

The federal government provided $221 million in hard hit funds to Indiana and the state directed $75 to competitive grants from local communities.

City officials put together an action plan to bring non-profit groups like neighborhood associations and housing development groups to help identify properties and find ways to eliminate vacant and beyond repair homes.

Bailey said more public meetings will be held to decide where the money will be directed and properties will be demolished.

The state estimates as many as 4,000 abandoned homes will be eliminated by the program, and Muncie has hundreds on unsafe building lists.

Many of the abandoned properties came from mortgage foreclosures as realtors and investors estimate as many as 30 percent of foreclosed homes are abandoned.

Mark Neyland, who supervises the state's hard hit fund, said this week's awards were only the latest in a series of grants to clean up inner city neighborhoods. 

"We are pleased that local residents in those communities can now look forward to seeing these properties replaced with green spaces and other productive end uses," he said.

Indiana's largest cities got the first round of funding in May, including Indianapolis, East Chicago, Hammond, Gary and Lawrence. More funding will be announced in August.

Terre Haute, Coatesville, Elwood, and Alexandria also were in the latest award besides Elkhart and Vigo counties.

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