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Report recommends Indy gets more aggressive to ensure equitable development, prevent displacement

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A report released by the Department of Metropolitan Development and a national nonprofit recommends the city enact policies such as making the new rent assistance program permanent and supporting the development of community land trusts to prevent displacement.

The report — An Anti-Displacement & Inclusive Growth Policy Agenda for Indianapolis — was developed as part of a partnership with Grounded Solutions Network, a national nonprofit member organization.

The partnership includes three phases: a needs assessment, policy agenda and policy implementation. This report is the result of the first and second phases.

Read the report here.

What are the policy recommendations?

The report comes with 11 policy recommendations to deal with four issues: evictions, affordable housing, housing conditions and displacement.

Evictions

Indianapolis consistently has one of the highest eviction rates in the country. Even before the pandemic, the report notes, almost half of renters in Indianapolis paid 30% or more of their income in rent.

The recommendations:

1. Make the city’s new Rental Assistance Program permanent, rather than just a pandemic crutch.

2. Develop an eviction prevention plan for Indianapolis landlords to define steps a landlord can take to make eviction a last resort.

3. Establish a “Landlord Academy” to train landlords in best practices.

4. Provide support for tenant organizing.

5. Establish a specialized housing court that would bring all housing-related cases to a single court, which the report says would make the process fairer and more efficient.

Affordable housing

The report says the affordable housing that exists in Indianapolis is under threat in two ways: Either the mandate for affordability will end and rents can then rise, or an area could go through disinvestment.

This is one of many areas where the Indiana Legislature represents an obstacle. Lawmakers in 2017 preemptively banned inclusionary zoning, which requires developers to include affordable units in their building plans.

The recommendation:

1. Establish a Housing Prevention Network to advocate and provide assistance for preserving subsidized and unsubsidized affordable rental housing.

Housing conditions

It’s difficult to quantify the scope of housing condition issues, the report says, because there isn’t enough data, but one measure is plumbing. According to census data, 935 owner-occupied units and 2,575 renter-occupied units didn’t have complete plumbing or kitchen facilities in 2017.

The recommendations:

1. Conduct a citywide housing condition assessment to get a better idea of what the issues are.

2. Seek a change in state law to allow the city to start a performance-based landlord licensing program, which would build on the current landlord registry by combining it with an inspection system.

Displacement

A 2020 study from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found Indianapolis was No. 12 on a list of the most intensely gentrifying cities from 2013 to 2017. The study identified 20 census tracts in Marion County that had “gentrified” in that time.

The recommendations:

1. Require displacement impact assessments for “significant” public and private projects that receive a certain amount of public subsidies.

2. Require leasing terms of affordability for a portion of units in any housing project that receives subsidies in areas where displacement pressures are growing.

3. Support the establishment of a community land trust, which can keep housing permanently affordable by buying land and maintaining control of it while selling or leasing homes.

What else is in the report?

The 27-page report starts with a history lesson.

“The racial divide in Indianapolis is not hard to see; a highway runs through it,” the report reads, noting neighborhoods around and to the north of interstates 65 and 70 are mostly African American and Hispanic, while the neighborhoods to the south are predominantly white.

The divide is a consequence of redlining, restrictive covenants and other racist practices that have an impact on more than where people live.

Using census data, the report shows median household income for Black and African American families is about $22,000 less than that of white families.

There is a much larger difference when it comes to wealth. Median household net worth in Marion County for Black households in 2017: $9,567. That number was $171,700 for white families.

“This spatial separation matters because place matters — the neighborhoods that we live in shape our experiences, our opportunities and our collective future,” the report reads.

What do people think?

Mark Bode, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said the city agrees with the policy recommendations.

Asked specifically about making the rent assistance fund permanent, he said the city is assessing the viability of a “more permanent” framework, though it would probably differ when it comes to aspects such as funding sources and program partners.

Indianapolis City-County Council President Vop Osili said he supports a permanent program because of the multiple disruptions families experience in employment, education and other areas when they lose housing.

“The idea of a permanent rental assistance program offers the possibility of providing short-term support that creates long-term stabilization for families and communities,” he said in a statement.

Jordan Ryan, an independent architectural history scholar, was most excited about seeing community land trusts mentioned in a city-sponsored document.

“Just mentioning community land trusts is a huge deal,” Ryan said. “This report represents this really significant moment.”

Community land trusts, or CLTs, are meant to allow people who have been priced out of the traditional housing market to buy into affordable homeownership, which is one of the biggest tools in America for building wealth.

Much of the current “affordable” housing stock tends to be for people who make between 80% and 120% of the area median income, Ryan said, which leaves out people in lower income brackets.

Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said she’s pleased to see these types of policy recommendations even though the Indiana Legislature has made it difficult for local governments to take control of their own housing issues.

One of the legislature’s major moves in the 2021 session was to override Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill that prohibits local governments from governing landlord-tenant relations.

“Cities have to keep trying,” she said. “They have to keep pushing.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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