Rosie Cantu hurriedly called an exterminator out to spray for cockroaches along her fence line.
As part of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 1,000 Homes in 1,000 Days initiative, the city was demolishing the house next door at 915 N. Harrison Ave., and the retiree knew those roaches would be scurrying her way in search of a new abode.
Cantu said the house needed to come down, but she wasn’t jumping for joy. Over the past few years, 10 houses were demolished two blocks to the South, and of the six houses that surround her on all sides, only three are occupied.
“To me it’s sad because there’s no neighbors to talk to, really, and it looks bad, all these empty lots,” Cantu said while sitting alone recently on her front deck. “We’ve been here since 1975 and we’ve seen the neighborhood come and go, but it’s gone for the worst now.”
Since Buttigieg took office in 2012, the city has demolished 886 houses it deemed were unsafe under guidelines spelled out in state law, an average of three houses per week, according to records The Tribune obtained under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act. The resulting empty lots, making some blocks look like big smiles with many missing teeth, are sparking debate about what should come next, if anything.
The void, and the lack of a concrete plan from the administration to fill it, prompted South Bend Common Council member Regina Williams-Preston, whose district has seen the most homes bulldozed, and affordable housing developer Ann Mannix earlier this month to propose 100 Homes in 500 Days. The plan would fill some of those lots with new homes for middle-income families, requiring buyers to qualify for $100,000 mortgage loans from private lenders. The city would need to spend $6 million — $3 million a year over two years — to help buyers fill the gap between a new home’s construction cost and its lower market value in distressed neighborhoods.