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Abandoned Gary: City Uses Tech to Deal With Blighted Buildings

Broken windows and busted boards are all that are left of some neighborhoods. But, the city is figuring out how to deal with it without going totally broke.

GARY, Ind.--In the shadow of the U.S. Steel plant that once employed 25,000 people, and fueled a thriving community, is Gary. With a population that was once near 200,000, the city is home to less than half of that now. That means a great number of the homes there have been abandoned.

And, that means the city has to find a way to tear them down without going totally broke.

Why they left

"When many of our people lost their jobs, they just left. They left their homes. They left their belongings in them," said Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. "So, it's one thing to have a vacant building. But, to have an abandoned building takes it to a different level."

U.S. Steel in Gary, now employs about 3,500 people.

Abandoned buildings and houses are places for criminals to operate. Freeman-Wilson acknowledged Gary's reputation for being a high-crime area.

Why they are using tech

"We started out early on using data to target how we would demolish or deconstruct those buildings, making sure that we were using the dollars that were made available to us in the most effective way," said the mayor, a former Indiana attorney general.

She said the city got an $11 million grant from the state to help demolish the abandoned houses, and they are using technology to do it in groups, so that property values go up for the people who live in those neighborhoods. The National Guard is also demolishing houses.

The help

"Last year they did 20 buildings. This year we expect them to do a similar number."

Freeman-Wilson said for-profit companies have also pitched in during the winter months and demolished about 20 houses.

She said she believes the people of Gary are resilient and their positivity, combined with recent job creation, is helping to put Gary in a renaissance.

PHOTO: Ashley Fowler/Emmis

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