By Ro Selvey—
MUNCIE, Ind. – Like many midwestern cities with a rich history, the City of Muncie has seen its fair share of changes to our local economy, our demographics, and to our neighborhoods. Many of these changes are the inevitable price of progress, they are all accompanied with their own unique challenges. Our housing is no exception. While our community has seen necessary and prudent growth in our residential structures, at the same time we are not exempt from the many homes that are left blighted and in disrepair.
According to the most recent census data, 15% of our housing stock is dilapidated and blighted. The trickle effects of these unseemly properties are numerous: they detract from our beautiful neighborhoods, they decrease property values of the surrounding homes, and they often become havens for unwanted wildlife and illegal activities. Boarding up the properties offers a temporary solution to the issue of unwanted entrants, but taxpayers are forced to shoulder the cost of materials and doesn’t remove the blight permanently.
Tearing down dilapidated housing is often the most desirable solution, but our local budget cannot support the number of structures that need to be demolished. Under these budget constraints, our city workers are forced to board and reseal repeatedly until funds become available. Round and round this cycle goes, like a carousel of dilapidation that we cannot stop.
Once more, often these properties change hands via tax sales to out-of-state property owners who assume no responsibility for the problems these properties are creating. City officials are forced to spend their limited time to locate them in hopes of working towards an appropriate solution. When a property owner can be located, it may be too late as the property has already switched hands to another entity or individual with no stake in our community.
This practice is an insult to both the landlords and property owners who do care adequately for their properties, and to the taxpayers who must foot the bill not only in decreased property values, but quite literally via the budget line items that must go towards boarding up the properties (a temporary fix) or by tearing down the structures altogether (a permanent, albeit often prohibitively expensive, solution).
All of this is why I, along with City Councilman Brandon Garrett, am cosponsoring Ordinance 42-21 which, if passed in its current form will create a much-needed tool the city can use to help solve this problem. The city has made great strides in the past several years to remediate this problem. City officials have made it a priority to remove blighted structures.
Neighborhood associations have been energized to beautify, and our local historic preservation commission has worked diligently to highlight the craftsmanship and character of our historic homes. Now is the time to leverage our recent successes with an additional tool in our toolbox via a registry of blighted and abandoned structures.
On September 13, 2021, the Muncie City Council introduced that ordinance.
Ordinance 42-21 will create a registry of blighted properties and their owners, allowing city officials to hold derelict property owners accountable to the harm they are causing to our neighborhoods. Furthermore, this ordinance will force these owners to board up windows and doors to prevent unlawful entry, shifting costs from the taxpayers to the property owners.
By maintaining a registry of blighted properties and their owners, we can begin to lift the burden from our citizens to property owners who shirk their legal duty to maintain safe and reasonable housing.
As a resident of this community since coming to this country more than 20 years ago, I take pride in the character of our neighborhoods; and as a member of the Muncie City Council, I take pride in the fact that our community can offer quality housing to our citizens. This ordinance will by no means be a permanent solution to our housing woes, but it will begin to inject accountability and equity to this problem our community faces.
Ro Selvey is a veteran award-winning Muncie Community Schools educator and member of the Muncie City Council.