State Rep. Crawford calls for Mayor Peterson to reverse housing trend
You had to give Bart Peterson credit. Shortly after his election in 1999, Peterson appeared to have halted what many were calling Mayor Stephen Goldsmith’s “economic cleansing” of downtown Indianapolis. Under Goldsmith, the city closed or sold over 1,500 subsidized housing units, including three large downtown apartment buildings that were all auctioned off to developers of market-rate condos and apartments.
“There is no way they [the Peterson Administration] can reconcile the displacement of low-income people because they could not afford to subsidize their housing, and then turn around and subsidize high-end housing,” says State Rep. William Crawford (D-Indianapolis).
Finally, just before leaving office, Goldsmith implausibly claimed that the 21-story Barton Apartments subsidized housing building on Massachusetts Avenue posed a fire hazard for its 160 senior and disabled residents. Goldsmith pursued federal permission to sell the Barton, hoping for a purchaser interested in converting the building into condominiums or office space (“I Want to Be Here Until I Leave This World,” April 22-29, 1999). On this final fire sale, Goldsmith ran out of time. In the summer of 1999, flanked by affordable housing advocates like Congresswoman Julia Carson and State Rep. William Crawford, candidate Peterson publicly vowed to keep Barton open and affordable. Peterson was elected that fall, and the Barton residents have remained undisturbed since. But despite saving the Barton, affordable housing in Indianapolis looms as an even larger concern at the end of Peterson’s first term than when he took office. Due to foreclosures on the private companies that operated them, hundreds of tenants of the federally subsidized Weyerbacher Terrace and Parkwood Apartments are being forced to move. The Weyerbacher building on Fall Creek and Meridian is being vacated this month, leading to a loss of 296 units. Plans have begun to remove all tenants from the 264 units at Parkwood Apartments on East 38th Street. Displacement of low-income people is disturbing news in a city where the Coalition for Homeless Intervention and Prevention estimates that more than 15,000 individuals are already homeless each year. Crawford is a Peterson supporter and fellow Democrat, but the House Ways and Means chairman is candid with his concerns about affordable housing trends under the mayor’s watch. “There has not been a commitment for a replacement strategy when low-income units are lost,” Crawford says. “In the four years of the Peterson Administration, there has not been a single unit of affordable housing built in the entire city, much less downtown.” Crawford and other advocates worry that the “economic cleansing” of downtown initiated during the Goldsmith Administration continues under Peterson’s watch, now in the form of displacement of low-income residents from downtown and near-Northside areas like Fall Creek Place.
Crawford: I will draw a line in the sand
Most of the people who are displaced by the closing of Weyerbacher Terrace and renovation of Parkwood Apartments receive vouchers allowing them to find housing in the private rental market. The rare and sought-after housing vouchers usually allow low-income tenants to cap their rent payment at 30 percent of their monthly income, with the government subsidizing the rest of the cost. But residents forced out of Weyerbacher or Parkwood cannot receive vouchers if they owe debts to the local housing agency or HUD, nor can they get vouchers if they have felony or drug convictions. The many families who are doubling up with relatives or friends in subsidized housing can only hope the Indianapolis Housing Agency will soon hold another lottery for places on the waiting list for vouchers. The last time a lottery was held, 12,000 people unsuccessfully applied to be put on the waiting list. A December 2002 study by the Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership found that available housing for low-income residents of Indianapolis does not meet the demand. “The supply is shrinking,” says IHA executive director Rufus “Bud” Myers. “When you have Weyerbacher closing and Parkwood shutting down on top of it, it stands to reason that for many people with very low incomes, the situation is building toward a shortage of housing they can afford.” Which is why Rep. Crawford says he is so concerned about talk in the local real estate community that the Peterson Administration will obtain control of the vacated Weyerbacher Terrace and then assist a for-profit developer in converting the building to housing for high-income residents. “I have expressed my concerns to Mayor Peterson’s staff and told them on this issue, I will have to draw a line in the sand,” Crawford says. “There is no way they can reconcile the displacement of low-income people because the city could not afford to subsidize their housing and then turn around and subsidize high-end housing.”
“The only thing that has happened on the Blueprint to End Homelessness is that some people are getting salaries to remind the community of the need.” — State Rep. William Crawford
Angie Dye, a spokesperson for the city Department of Metropolitan Development, confirms the city has an interest in acquiring the Weyerbacher Terrace property, but talk about how the city may help develop it is premature since the property has not yet changed hands. Dye stresses, however, that the mayor takes Crawford’s concerns seriously. “This administration is sensitive to the need for affordable housing downtown,” she says. But this time, Crawford says he is looking for more than expression of Peterson’s concern. “We lack a comprehensive affordable rental housing strategy in Indianapolis. The Blueprint to End Homelessness is an idea on paper, but the only thing that has happened on the Blueprint is that some people are getting salaries to remind the community of the need. Nothing else is being done because it will take funding to do more.” Crawford was a key supporter of last year’s “Just a Penny Will Help So Many” ordinance (Sept. 4, 2002) that would have dedicated some local property tax revenue to the Indianapolis Low-Income Housing Trust Fund. Peterson refused to support the ordinance, and the proposal never got a hearing at the City-County Council. “We have a low-income housing trust fund in this community, but the question is how do you find a permanent revenue stream to make the trust fund work,” Crawford says. “That’s the vehicle, but there has to be the political will to fund it.”