"Spring Forward" project will beautify 45 vacant homes - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

"Spring Forward" project will beautify 45 vacant homes

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Volunteers prepping boards to put up in windows of vacant homes. Volunteers prepping boards to put up in windows of vacant homes.

It's been part of a major effort in Mayor Pete Buttigieg's administration... the "A thousand homes in a thousand days" campaign. An effort to reduce the number of vacant and abandoned homes, but since Mayor Pete left for Afghanistan, the work load is now on Deputy Mayor Mark Neal. FOX28 caught up with the Deputy Mayor to get an update on how the project is moving along. So far, the city has rehabbed 140 abandoned homes and the next phase is to demolish nearly 200 homes. FOX28 asked whether the deep freeze is putting a damper on progress. Deputy Mayor Mark Neal says, "The weather's having a real impact on what we have been able to get done this winter. And we've been working hard to make sure with the contracts we have worked out that the work will begin here in the spring." A third of Indiana's foreclosed houses are abandoned, and that's among the highest percentage in the country. Indiana has 50,000 abandoned homes.

More than 1,500 of those abandoned and vacant homes are right here in South Bend - waiting their fate. The "Spring Forward" project is leading a campaign to beautify them while they wait. A group of local artists have decided that for the time being, why not make them an art project. The "Spring Forward" project is looking to beautify the neighborhoods of vacant and abandoned homes. The group's co-organizer Christopher Stackowicz is an artist in South Bend who was responsible for the mural painted at the overpass of SR-933 last year. "Artist are begging for the opportunity to be involved in something and use their skills to decorate the town," says Stackowicz.

Nearly 90 volunteers met at the Michiana YMCA's Cooper Center to cut and paint boards to put over abandoned homes' windows. "They're in limbo, so instead of them looking like generic plywood boards while they're in limbo, we want them to look a little bit brighter," says Stackowicz.

Friday, volunteers cut and primed wood boards for the artists to paint on Saturday. A part of those volunteers was the IU-South Bend Criminal Justice team. President of the group, Christina Smith, says, "Through a lot of class studies, we've gone through some of the things that can contribute or increase crime rate, and vacant homes, abandoned homes, do have an influence on that." Therefore, the group is taking a pro-active approach.

"Spring Forward" volunteers will paint scenes Saturday. Allison Mollete is one of those local artists who is sketching art on the plywood boards. She says, "Art is important for everybody. It's nice to look at. It helps the community feel proud of the city that they're living in because we're helping make it beautiful together."

Many of the abandoned homes are located near Muessel Primary school, and "Spring Forward" says by bringing art into the neighborhoods, it will help beautify children's walks to school. "When kids walk past them on their way to school, we wnat them to say, 'Oh, I can't wait for someone to live in that house and actually make it look like that,'" says Stackowicz.

Organizers expect to have 175 volunteers meeting at Muessel Primary in South Bend on Saturday. Saturday's project will be managed by Samantha Stackowicz, Muessel Primary principal Michael Budzinski, and Michael Hebbler from Notre Dame's Center for Social Concerns. Local artists will paint the boards to look like the inside of a home.

Sunday, the boards will be mounted on 45 vacant and abandoned homes around South Bend.

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