Restoring Home Ownership

Posted: January 12, 2012 in government, Neighborhoods, South Bend, Uncategorized, vision

[This is a series of blogs dealing with issues pertaining to condition of neighborhoods on the South Side of South Bend.  You can read the first post here.]

No one in South Bend grows up dreaming of living on Dubail Street.  They just don’t.  If you are on Dubail Street it is either because you have no other options, or you are 93 years old, have lived there for 68 years, and aren’t moving now.  Otherwise, if you could have left, you did.

You can call it “white flight,” “suburban exodus,” “movin’ on up” or whatever you want, but the reality is – people who can, are leaving neighborhoods that are in closer proximity to the center of the city and fleeing to the outskirts (churches frequently do the same thing).  They blame it on several things – increased crime, lower property values, underperforming schools, general blight, etc. – but in the end, it fosters within a neighborhood an increased level of fear and anxiety (more on this in another blog posting).  So, the first chance they get…they move out of the neighborhood.

And their home, more often than not, doesn’t get sold to another family looking for long-term residency, but to someone interested in rental properties.  And over decades of this trend, you have literally – blocks of homes that are now rental properties.  Home ownership is no longer the norm or expectation of these neighborhoods. [The city provides a map with listed residential ownership at this website].

And it is the loss of private home ownership that I believe is the GREATEST cause and factor in the deterioration of south side neighborhoods.

Quick story.  I, along with another member of the Living Stones Church, was in a meeting about a month ago with Pam Myers and Lory Timmer who work in the Community Development office of South Bend.  Pam shared a story of a conversation that happened just that week in her office.  She got a phone call from a woman in New Jersey who purchased, via internet, a few homes in South Bend.  She isn’t from South Bend, she’s never been here, she doesn’t know anything about South Bend nor the neighborhood and community in which she purchased these homes.  But she was calling to get “the money.”  She was apparently under the impression (probably from one of those late night infomercials teaching you the techniques of making millions through real estate) that if she bought foreclosed or abandoned properties that the city gave her money to rehab them so she could sell it for a profit.  After Pam Myers told her that wasn’t how it worked, wanting to unload the hassle she just purchased she attempted to “donate” the properties to the city.

I can’t help but wonder how often that sort of thing happens.  People who have no vested interest in our community, our neighborhoods, and or city who then purchase property in our neighborhoods hoping to turn a profit.  And when you are driven by profit, you aren’t concerned by the overall impact your house has on the neighborhood, you are only concerned with how much money you can make.  Thus, your property is typically in poor shape and full of issues.

And do you know who can afford to rent those kind of rental properties?  People who can’t really afford those rental properties.  An individual stuck in their economic situation signs the papers, puts up a modest deposit and then has housing for a few months never intending to pay the monthly rent.  The landlords then file eviction proceedings and the “renters” quickly move to another house in the exact same fashion.  Individuals in these neighborhoods are very transient.  Ask Monroe and Lincoln Primary Schools what the percentage of their students who begin the year with them actually finish.

The impact on a neighborhood is huge.  Renters who have no intention of staying long don’t care about their property.  They don’t care about their yard, they don’t care about their neighborhood.  And why should they?  They have no ownership in it.  And the real “owners” most likely don’t live here, or live elsewhere and are only concerned about a profit coming out of Dubail Street.

If you want to resurrect and change these neighborhoods, it can’t be by just demolishing abandoned homes.  It can’t be by putting in new sidewalks and lights.  It can’t be by sprucing up a nearby park.  It can’t happen through “curb appeal” projects and funding.  It won’t happen by a well-intended non-profit groups buying up all of the homes.  I’m more or less for all (or at least some) of these investments.  But ultimately, if you are going to resurrect a declining neighborhood it has to be by RESTORING HOME OWNERSHIP in that neighborhood.  (more on this to follow)

Possible resource from Diana Hess of the Neighborhood Resources Corporation:

Homeownership from Start to FinishJanuary 16, 9:30 – 11:30 a.m., Century Center Recital Hall, If you want to know the best way to become a homeowner, this program is for you.  Local experts will share how to finance a home, find the neighborhood that is right for you, and how you can keep your home during difficult times.  9:30 – The American Dream, Amanda Walker, GreenPath Debt Solutions; 10:00 – Financing the Cream, Kelly Suddarth, KeyBank Loan officer; 10:30 – Keeping the Dream Alive: Surviving Foreclosure”, Judith Fox, Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Notre Dame Law School and Legal Aid Clinic.  Moderators: Stephanie Ball, director of home ownership, South Bend Heritage Foundation and Tasha Reed Outlaw, attorney at law, TRO Law Group.


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