Two years after fire, burnt home may be torn down



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After a fire two years ago, neither the bank nor the homeowner took responsibility for demolishing this Bloomington home. At the insistence of fed up neighbors, county officials are finally stepping in. Annie Garau and Annie Garau

After a fire more than two years ago, the burnt skeleton of the house on Woodmere Way still stands.

Outside, charred wind chimes jingle from the post of a scorched basketball hoop. Only singed strings remain of the net.

Inside, under a cloudy sky, darkened beams rest on top of molding carpet and ripped chairs. Yellowed wallpaper sags towards the floor where a piggy bank, a blue ball and a baby doll stroller sit half-submerged in insulation and rubble.

For two years, this house has sat untouched in the middle of a nice, residential neighborhood on Bloomington’s south side. Neighbors, who decorate with St. Patrick’s Day door hangings and lawn ornaments, have been fighting continuously with the city to have the eyesore torn down.

Now, it seems, they may have made progress.

The Monroe County Building Commissioner recently issued an order to “Vacate, Seal, Exterminate Vermin and Demolish” the house that was formerly occupied by a family of four.

Judith Benckhart, a legal assistant at the Monroe County Legal Department, said the family declared bankruptcy a few months before the fire, and the home had gone into foreclosure. So when the fire occured, the family was left homeless and the former homeowners were unsure whether the house was their responsibility or that of the bank.

“The homeowner’s association has been trying to get him to do something about it forever, but he doesn’t have any money,” next door neighbor Les Hartsock said of the former homeowner.

The residents weren’t alone in their housing troubles. Since the beginning of the Great Recession, Indiana has continuously ranked among the worst states in the country for foreclosures.

For this reason, the state has repeatedly qualified for Hardest Hit Funds from the U.S. Treasury to assist struggling homeowners. On Friday, Indiana was granted an additional $28.5 million in funding.

Though this increase in funding does mean that Indiana remains one of the 18 hardest hit states in the country, Lt. Governor Sue Ellsperman said things are 
looking up.

“According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, Indiana has its lowest foreclosure rate since the first quarter of 2007,” Ellsperman said in a press release. “With the additional HHF funding we will be able to help more Hoosier families remain in their homes, and continue reducing the foreclosure rate.”

This type of progress is important for Hoosiers who are tired of living near abandoned homes.

“In the summer you can’t open the windows because of the smell of all that wet carpeting and furniture in the heat,” Hartsock said. “There are skunks, and rodents and opossums. You’re not gonna invite anybody over to sit on the back deck, let’s face it.”

Hartsock has been working with city officials to have the home torn down since the fire first happened. Now, for the first time, he said he’s feeling optimistic.

Now that the order has been filed, the Monroe County Commissioners will conduct a public hearing Tuesday, March 1. If there are no significant objections by invested parties, the municipality will likely proceed with the removal.

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