The following post was written by David Gard, assistant vice president for economic engagement at Indiana University.
Recently, I had the opportunity to join the fall 2022 meeting of the Chancellor’s Commission on Community Engagement at IU Northwest in Gary, Ind. Chancellor Ken Iwama focused the panel session, “Identifying Barriers to Economic Redeployment: University-Community Collaboration,” on how IUN is addressing a key issue essential to revitalizing the economic base in northwest Indiana: closing the loophole that lets speculators hold land parcels without paying property taxes.
Lake County has been plagued by an excess of tax-delinquent properties. When property taxes go unpaid for an extended period, parcels can be auctioned off at a county tax sale. However, if no bids are received, owners can retain the property, and can even participate in other tax sales to accumulate more land. These parcels are known in the lexicon of government tax collection as “churners.”
Through exhaustive research in collaboration with Lake County government, the Center for Urban and Regional Excellence at IU Northwest identified the number and location of all tax-delinquent parcels that remain unsold due to zero bids received during Lake County tax sales in 2020 and 2021. This number totals 9,231 “churned” parcels, which represents a significant drag on the local economy; not only is no tax revenue being collected, but the properties sit idle as well, preventing redevelopment opportunities.
Since 2004, CURE has worked to engage members of IU Northwest and the surrounding community to create sustainable, high-impact programs and initiatives to address key challenges facing northwest Indiana. As a result of the center’s research and its scheduled release of a series of focused reports, new approaches are being developed to better enable governmental units to capture financial gains from unsold properties and return them to benefit local communities. These include potentially proposing legislation during the upcoming 2023 session of the Indiana General Assembly that will close the “churner” loophole.
Over 60 citizens and leaders from northwest Indiana participated in the Chancellor’s Commission luncheon. Lake County Commissioner Michael Repay, Lake County Commissioner’s attorney Matthew Fech, and graduate student Victoria Travis, team coordinator for CURE, led the panel discussion, which was moderated by CURE Director Ellen Szarleta. The region was proud to welcome IU President Pamela Whitten, who provided opening welcoming remarks.
The important initiative underscores the crucial role IU Northwest plays in advancing the economic vitality and quality of life for the region that it serves through working in partnership with local communities and governments.