Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, center, talks to Indiana state Sens. Jim Merritt and Earline Rogers before a forum about blighted property Monday at the YMCA of Northwest Indiana in Gary. Staff photo by Jonathan Miano
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, center, talks to Indiana state Sens. Jim Merritt and Earline Rogers before a forum about blighted property Monday at the YMCA of Northwest Indiana in Gary. Staff photo by Jonathan Miano
GARY | When Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson left home Monday night, she counted four vacant homes and a vacant apartment building not far from her house.

She happened to be on her way to host a public forum on the Elimination of Blight program proposed by the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. The program proposes to put $50 million to $70 million in federal Hardest Hit funds toward demolishing 4,000 to 5,000 blighted or abandoned homes statewide.

Gary officials like Freeman-Wilson and state Sen.  Earline Rogers (D-Gary) would like at least some of those homes to be in Gary.

Indiana already has used much of its Hardest Hit allotment to help individual homeowners, including Gary residents. Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann has led the charge to put some of the remaining Indiana Hardest Hit Fund toward demolishing abandoned homes and helping to end blight. To do so, Indiana will need a go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Treasury. The application to Treasury should be made by the end of the year, and public forums like Monday's at the Gary YMCA are part of the process.

The forum included a special guest, state Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis. He was there, he said, to let the city know that “Indianapolis cares about Gary.”

“I’m a history buff,” he said. “There’s a lot of Gary we need to save. But tonight is about demolition of abandoned homes.” At the moment, he said, there are 10,000 vacant homes in Indianapolis.

Just how much money Gary might receive as opposed to Indianapolis and other Marion County communities was one of the issues brought up. The Elimination of Blight program as proposed would divide Indiana counties into six divisions. Lake and Marion counties would occupy the first division.

If the Treasury Department approves the use of the Hardest Hit Fund for home demolition, Marion and Lake would be eligible for $16,192,500.

Gary Councilwoman Mildred Shannon wondered aloud how the money would be divvied up between Lake and Marion. Past experience tells her that “Marion gets the lion’s share and we get $2.50,” she said. “What I want is what you can’t give me: blessed assurance that we will get our fair share.”

On the other hand, Shannon said she knew that Freeman-Wilson and Rogers would be in there “pushing for us.”

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