Gary struggles with 'plague' of abandoned buildings

Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Gary struggles with 'plague' of abandoned buildings
Gary, Ind., is struggling to get ahead of a property problem: thousands of abandoned buildings, many magnets for crime.

GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- Gary, Ind., is struggling to get ahead of a property problem: thousands of abandoned buildings, many magnets for crime.

Ten months after alleged serial killer Darren Vann used several abandoned homes as a dumping ground for dead bodies, there are still questions about what should be done to erase the blight some call "Gary's plague."

PHOTOS: Gary's abandoned buildings

Crumbling homes and businesses pock the city, with 20 percent of properties not just vacant but abandoned. Lot after lot on block after block; blight is everywhere.

"All of these houses have been abandoned for at least 10 to 15 years," says Marcus Berry, a Gary resident. "Nobody tore them down."

Homes big and small and even a high rise hotel are abandoned. Some structures are so choked by weeds it's hard to tell they're even there. All of the abandoned buildings are constant obstacles for longtime residents thinking of reinvesting in their own community.

"You got to turn around and watch somebody take it, break in, steal and destroy what you worked for? That's sad man, it's sad," Berry says.

"We've gone out to board up houses and people are squatting, camped out like they actually live there," says Cedric Kuykendall, Gary Demolition Coordinator.

It's Kuykendall's job to tear down these eyesores, some of which have also become burial grounds.

In October 2014, police say alleged serial killer Darren Vann led them to four abandoned homes where they found the bodies of six women. Since the grisly discovery, Gary has received local and federal grants to increase demolitions.

The city says in 2014 163 buildings came down, and 111 have been demolished so far in 2015. Officials say they are on track to take down 400 abandoned buildings by year end. Those numbers represent just a drop in the bucket: there are more than 6,700 abandoned buildings in Gary.

"The smell that comes from it, you just don't know what will come out grab you and I teach my kids to walk on the opposite side of the street," says LaShonna Nesbit.

Arsonists have set their sights on many of Gary's abandoned buildings and there's little money for board-up to keep people out.

"I would just like to see cleanliness instead of everybody coming to Gary and dumping, like they don't care, throwing bags everywhere," says Kuykendall.

Demolition isn't in and of itself a solution. Many lots where homes once stood are now so over-grown they look like forests. Sidewalks get swallowed up and mischief makers have plenty of places to hide.

Gary is now insisting demolitions come with three-year landscaping contracts, but the city is still facing the problem of simply not having enough money to tackle this huge problem.