Blight Buster: City Hoping for Land Bank Approval

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In his State of the City address on Tuesday, Evansville Mayor Lloyd Winnecke laid out an ambitious agenda for the next couple of years. In his address, the mayor announced his administration would be sending a proposal to City Council that aims to address the growing and costly problem of blighted and vacant properties. The proposal, which would establish a so-called land bank, could result in the demolition of roughly two hundred of the worst blighted properties in the city.

As part of the land banking program, the city would take title 200 blighted homes that didn’t sell at the most recent tax sale. After taking the title from the Vanderburgh County Board of Commissioners, the city’s Brownsfield Corporation, the managing entity of the land bank, would have demolition crews remove the structures and clean up the lots. After demolition, city officials would remove any existing tax liens on the property and ensure there aren’t any issues with the title. Then, the properties would be deposited in the Land Bank of Evansville and held for future developers. Future developers could include for-profit and non-profit entities like ECHO Housing.

The first round of funding, which could amount to $1.7 million, would come from the first $12.5 million installment of Tropicana’s lease pre-payment. The plan, which is still in the process of being drafted, requires City Council approval.

The homes at 1529 and 1527 West Florida Street are two feet and two worlds apart. Frank Fischer spent thousands renovating his home.

His neighbors owe thousands in back taxes.

“My neighbors house, nobody has lived in it for the entire time that I’ve lived here, which has been 10 years,” Fischer said. It’s falling down toward my house.”

The situation is Evansville’s blight problem in a nutshell. There are also two other homes, 1522 and 1524 W Florida, which are chronically vacant. They too went unsold at the recent tax sale.

“It starts to take your land value down for one thing,” Fischer said. “I’d rather have the neighbors than the vacant properties.”

Kelley Coures, the executive director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, believes the land banking program will work if it receives the proper funding from City Council. This belief comes from a pilot effort in the Goosetown Neighborhood on the city’s south side. Beginning in 2006, more than 200 vacant and blighted structures were torn down and more than 80 new homes were built in their place. The property taxes generated from the project have already covered the program’s cost, Coures said.

“A boarded up house in a neighborhood reduces the assessed valuation — the market value if you will — of the houses around it by 10 to 20 percent,” Coures said. “Where the land bank will do its work is primarily in the urban core.”

Entire clusters of blighted homes in the Jacobsville neighborhood and the city’s south side could be eliminated through the land banking program. According to the list of unsold properties from the most recent tax sale, large pockets of homes in the 1500 block of W Florida, 400 block of E Virginia St., 600 block of E Gum St., 800 block of Adams Ave. and 1700 block of S Kerth could meet the wrecking ball. The list also includes the 800 and 900 blocks of Blackford Ave., where some homes have been so forgotten for so long, there is moss growing on the roof.

“You know it’s not really about tearing down blighted structures. It’s really about reclaiming neighborhoods and increasing the city’s population,” Coures said. “It’s about reclaiming the population in those neighborhoods and reclaiming the property taxes that we’re doing without.”

Annually, the city loses out on more than $1 million in unpaid property taxes. If the land banking proposal is approved by the City Council, the county’s tax sale would no longer be necessary.

To visually show you just how many homes could be demolished, Eyewitness News plotted them on this map. Each red dot represents a property that went unsold at the most recent tax sale that has a structure on it. As you can see, most of them are concentrated on the south side and in the Jacobsville area north of Columbia Street.


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