IU Northwest student data research leads to Indiana state law change
IU Northwest student data research leads to Indiana state law change
Thursday, May 04, 2023
CURE’s Lake County Redevelopment project exemplifies IU 2030’s foundational pillars
GARY, Ind. — Thinking about thumbing through thousands — yes, thousands — of paper deeds from the Lake County Assessor’s Office, now brings a smile to Indiana University Northwest graduate student Victoria Travis.
That’s because the tedious work Travis and her team did to identify more than 7,000 “churner properties,” parcels which would constantly go through the Lake County commissioners’ and treasurer’s sale, led to a change in law in the state of Indiana.
The legislation establishes a process for Lake County, and other similarly situated Indiana counties, to transfer ownership of a tax-delinquent property that twice did not sell at both the county treasurer’s and county commissioners’ tax sale to either the county or a municipality on an expedited basis for future development purposes. It also prohibits those who own property offered for sale at both the commissioners’ and treasurer’s tax sales on two or more occasions from bidding or purchasing other parcels for sale.
“It was the data that was provided through Indiana University Northwest and CURE that convinced the legislators,” said John Dull, Assistant Lake County Commissioners Attorney. “We wouldn’t be off of first base if they hadn’t got involved.”
From IU Northwest to the Indiana Statehouse
The project began in 2021, when IU Northwest and Lake County explored the possibility of working together. IU Northwest CURE director and School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor Ellen Szarleta and Chancellor Ken Iwama met with legislators. With a handful of students, IU Northwest began working closely with Dull and fellow Lake County Commissioners Attorney Matt Fench.
Travis said she and the members of the CURE student team went through over 4,000 paper deeds and the team spent more than six months — or more than 1,400 working hours — collecting, digitizing and organizing parcel data.
“We didn’t know where they were, we didn’t know how many exactly there were,” Szarleta said. “The county was first needing the facts so that then they could take some alternatives for solutions.”
That’s where CURE stepped in.
SB 157, which goes into effect July 1, 2023, helped overcome the lengthy, and costly, legislative challenges in returning these properties to the county tax roll. IU Northwest continues to help supplying recommendations for lawmakers to identify parcels to focus their efforts on moving forward.
The goal for the project was to make a significant community impact. It did that and more. Travis said she wants to continue a career in economic redevelopment when she graduates in May.
“Not only did we do the data work, we had to get the buy-in,” Travis said. “You explain that we’re getting these properties that are already tax-assessed in your community and it’s taking away from your budget money. It’s dead land, it’s already not generating any revenue. This is what it does for you, it helps with economic redevelopment.”
Underlying the importance of the issue at hand and speaking with government officials, business leaders, rotary club members — anyone who would listen — produced buy-in and unanimous support as the proposed legislation passed through the state. The legislation, written by Sens. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell, and Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, passed the Indiana Senate 49-0 and the House 96-0 before being signed into law by Gov. Holcomb.
Fulfilling IU 2030's foundational pillars
While the reports produced led to unprecedented statewide impact, the research process also aligns directly with the three pillars laid out in Indiana University’s Strategic Plan, IU 2030 – student success and opportunity; transformative research and creativity; and service to our state and beyond.
The best part? The process can be replicated, Iwama said.
“Having IU Northwest as a partner, I can’t imagine the different types of studies and projects, only limited by our resources and our capacity here, that can be done,” Iwama said. “I think our mission moving forward is to continue to educate the public about what potentially the university can do to take steps to address significant community problems.”
IU 2030: The Indiana University Strategic Plan, guided under the leadership of Indiana University President Pamela Whitten, is a path made to create one university-wide plan to connect the goals and vision to reaffirm the university’s place within the highest tier of American public higher education.
From the opportunity students experienced and tools they gained, to the transformative research highlighting a long-standing issue and the community impact throughout the state of Indiana and, possibly, beyond, few projects better exemplify all three of those pillars than the Lake County Redevelopment Project.
Future research, collaboration opportunities for students
CURE has released five of eight reports examining the supply of and demand for properties moving through the tax certificate sale process.
The next reports will focus on prioritizing action steps for counties – including which properties for government officials to focus on – particularly in the northeast quadrant of Lake County. From there, properties will begin to convert at a quicker rate, which will help cities like Gary, where blighted and unoccupied buildings will be able to be used for further redevelopment opportunities for years to come.
“The impact, I don’t know if we’ve seen the actual impact on this study yet,” Iwama said.
So, while a new law has been passed, the work with IU Northwest’s CURE and Lake County will continue. IU Northwest students will continue to provide recommendations on how to tackle churner properties throughout the county.
“There’s a lot of things still coming out of the data,” Travis said.
And this project highlights the possibility for further collaborative partnerships with IU Northwest, Northwest Indiana and beyond.
“This is unique, not only because of its economic impact on the community, but I think the collaboration is what we were really focused on,” Szarleta said. “This is not an easy process with how we can bring together government, the University and everyone else who has been involved in this process, to move something forward.
“… We’ve been able to make it happen within a year. The model on how we do this kind of work, we can build on it. It’s not a one-off, it’s a process.”
IU 2030: Student Success and Opportunity IU Northwest will ensure the long-term success of all students while remaining grounded in our unique identity as an Hispanic-Serving Institution and as a Minority-Serving Institution, with a commitment to meeting the needs of our entire student body.
IU Northwest will improve the lives of the people and economic vitality of Northwest Indiana and beyond by fostering and strengthening collaborative relationships that promote, build and sustain the well-being of the campus and our communities.
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