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City officials and neighborhood activists hope that a recently adopted revitalization plan for the Ninth Street Park neighborhood will soon unlock more than half a million dollars in grant money to remove derelict homes.
Mayor Kristen Brown’s revitalization plan outlines goals and strategies to transform the area into a healthy and thriving neighborhood. Although the plan focuses on the neighborhood that stretches from Sixth and 11th streets to the north and south, and from California Street to Central Avenue east to west, initial efforts will be focused in the area within a block or two of the park at Ninth and Wilson streets.
“The idea is that, block by block, you stabilize and then expand out,” Brown said. “This is the neighborhood in the most decline. It is currently the city’s most distressed neighborhood. It has the highest crime rates, poverty rates, highest vacancies and some of the lowest property values. And there has been no investment in the neighborhood for decades. We believe that the public investment will be the catalyst to private investment once again.”
By the end of the month, city officials hope to see the first impact of the new plan — a $550,000 state grant being requested by Housing Partnerships Inc. to acquire six vacant homes and apartments in the neighborhood. The agency would then either tear down or repair the homes and make them available as low-cost housing to qualified tenants, said Julie Beaubien, president of Housing Partnerships Inc. and director of housing for Thrive Alliance.
“It will help to stabilize the neighborhood a little more,” she said. “You are going to get rid of some of those vacant or blighted areas of the neighborhood. You are going to put people in those houses that really want to be part of that neighborhood.”
Beaubien said HPI plans to focus its energy and efforts on the vacant homes that are most in need of repair or removal. She said landlords have walked away from their properties because they are in such bad condition.
“Some of them haven’t been occupied for some time,” she said.
“The properties that we are targeting are vacant properties and, for the most part, they have been left vacant for a reason.”
The state grant requires a 20 percent local match, which HPI has raised through a donation from Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County and in-kind donations such as volunteer time, she said. Beaubien said that if the grant is approved, the work of buying and rehabilitating or rebuilding the homes should take place within the next 18 months.
Critical community needs
A needs assessment was conducted in March on critical community needs in the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood, which includes the Ninth Street Park area. Among the identified needs to make the area more attractive:
Targeting vacant buildings
One of the first properties to be tackled will be a vacant four-apartment building at 905 Wilson St., just across the street from the park. The building has long been seen as a haven for bad activity, Brown said, and was the site of a stabbing earlier this year. Beaubien said the agency has a purchase agreement in place for that building and plans to move ahead, whether or not it gets the state grant.
Shirley Blair, a resident of the area for more than 30 years, lives across the street from the Wilson Street property and serves on the neighborhood watch. She said she will be glad to see it cleaned up, although she is concerned about the insects, such as bedbugs, infesting it and moving into neighbors’ homes. Overall, she has been happy with the city’s efforts in the neighborhood.
“We still have some problems we are watching, and we have pretty well got them pinpointed, the ones causing some of our trouble,” Blair said.
“It has cleaned up really good. I can sit outside on the porch at 2 or 3 in the morning if I don’t feel like going to bed. I sit there with my cellphone in case something happens, but you very rarely see something going on.”
Carl Malysz, the city’s community development director, said having the adopted plan will show potential funders, such as the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority that oversees the grant HPI is applying for, that the neighborhood initiatives are part of a broader community effort.
“Much to its credit, IHCDA understands that investments in housing make the most sense when you concentrate them and have a comprehensive approach,” he said.
Diane Doup, community outreach coordinator for Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, said the speed of recent involvement in the neighborhood has been appreciated by residents. They have long seen their neighborhood in decline, but things took a turn for the worse last year and they began to lobby City Hall for help.
“They became empowered to share their concerns publicly and not to sit inside their four walls in fear,” Doup said. “I think that has really contributed to what is becoming a swift response.”
In the past year, there have been a series of neighborhood meetings, an expansion of the park including the incorporation of another lot and new playground equipment, the addition of a security camera to oversee the area, increased police patrols and neighborhood cleanup efforts.
“I think we have definitely seen an increase in people in the neighborhood who are feeling a sense of empowerment and wanting to turn that into positive energy to improve the Ninth Street Park area,” Doup said. “There is a real synergy that is starting to come together between government, nonprofits, businesses, churches and, most importantly, the neighbors. We have seen more people coming out on the street. They are excited about where it is going.”
Randy Allman, executive director of Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center, said the improvements to the neighborhood are long overdue.
“We have been trying to rally this reaction for years, and to be honest with you we didn’t get anywhere,” Allman said. “We saw this kind of developing right in front of our eyes, and it was very frustrating that we were getting folks continuing to move out of this neighborhood, continuing to abandon these houses or selling them to landlords who really weren’t putting a lot of effort into them.”
According to city’s statistics, the neighborhood has the worst ratio in the city of homeownership by residents versus ownership by landlords — only one home owned by residents for every five by landlords. Doup said improvements HPI hopes to make will cause a domino effect, further encouraging neighbors and landlords to improve their properties.
Doup said residents have a clear vision of the neighborhood they would like to see:
“A safe neighborhood. An attractive neighborhood. A neighborhood of hope and opportunities for all its residents, of all ages,” she said. “I think people would like to see more families with young children come and take advantage of the park that is there. Those are the kinds of things they have shared with us.”
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