State Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann
To the editor:
Recently, the Daily Journal published a news story about how few options neighborhoods and counties have available to them for dealing with abandoned homes. This is a fair assessment and a problem that plagues many cities and towns across our state.
Abandoned properties attract vandalism, illegal drug use and are a legitimate safety concern. In the long term, they can give neighborhoods a negative reputation, affect local property values and stall community growth. Oftentimes, these houses remain unattended and decaying for several years with local authorities or neighbors unable to take action. The story shed an important light on these frustrations.
Statehouse leaders have been working to solve the abandoned homes crisis for several years now. Unfortunately, this problem has been difficult to tackle because the process for dealing with abandoned homes is lengthy and complex.
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 the story pointed out, the only option left for a county at this point is to have the property declared structurally unsound and demolished. Of course, some properties don’t qualify for this designation, and action is again delayed.
To help address this complicated issue for communities, the Indiana General Assembly passed a new 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 help empower local organizations and concerned neighbors to take action and turn these eyesores into positive developments for the area.
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. New changes have significantly broadened who can receive this assistance, increased how much assistance is available and extended the length of time homeowners can qualify to receive the financial help.
If you are a struggling homeowner, please seek assistance through this program by visiting www.877GETHOPE.org or calling 1-877-Get-Hope.
Let’s work together to keep our neighborhoods safe, strong and vibrant.