IU and its bad relationship with real estate
Some time around 1980, give or take a year, I was a college student here in Bloomington, Indiana. At that time a line of old houses stood along east Sixth Street near the university and were slated for demolition on the following day. My boyfriend and I were curious, and we entered one of the houses. It was unlocked, for there was nothing to steal and the bulldozers would arrive in the morning. Inside was a wood-paneled foyer, a handsome wooden staircase, and a set of French doors with beveled glass between the foyer and the adjoining parlor.
“Why are they tearing this down?!” was my immediate thought. I was poor and had been living in a series of squalid rentals. To my eyes, this old house with its wood paneling, oak floor and beveled glass was a thing of beauty even though it was horribly scarred by misuse over the years. It had been a long time since the house had been a family home; it had probably served for many years as a student rental or as an inadequate series of offices for graduate assistants. I grew angry as I looked around the foyer, for I would have loved being able to live in a house like that. If I had been a little older and a little more financially situated, I would have eagerly embraced any opportunity to buy it and rehabilitate it myself.
The reason why this entire row of houses was being demolished was simple: Indiana University needed additional parking. On the day after I viewed the foyer of this handsome old house, the entire block was demolished and the space turned into a gravel parking lot. Eventually the gravel lot was paved, and that’s how it remains to this day. It’s striking to consider that this block of approximately ten houses was more valuable to the University as parking space than it was as student rentals or office space.
To be blunt, ownership of real estate by Indiana University is the kiss of death. The University has torn down probably a hundred attractive older houses in Bloomington, if not more. Handsome and once-elegant homes once stood everywhere that you see a parking lot today around the edges of campus. I can easily remember from my student days dozens of homes that stood along east Sixth, East Fourth and the entire northern side of Atwater. Any houses that the University retains as rentals are not treated well; they endure heavy wear and tear but receive only the basic minimum physical upkeep necessary to pass the housing inspections. Whenever IU purchases a house, it further impoverishes the city tax base, as the University is not required to pay taxes on its own real estate. They have no tax responsibilities toward these properties; they abuse them for decades; and then when they can squeeze no more drops of usefulness from them they tear them down for parking lots .
In all of the years that I have lived in Bloomington, the University has only rehabbed two houses, both times under intense pressure from the city of Bloomington. These two are the historic Legg House inside the curve of Atwater near the southwest corner of campus, and the outstanding large bungalow on the southwest corner of Fourth and Dunn. Both houses were originally slated for demolition; both stood vacant and rotting for years before any action was taken. The city of Bloomington has no legal power to compel the University to rehab or to restore, or even to prevent demolition; it only succeeded in these two instances because of the architectural or historic importance of these houses. And although these two were saved, at least a hundred others were bulldozed.
I wish there were a legal mechanism that would prevent the University from purchasing any additional houses or other real estate in Bloomington, for it has proved itself a most unworthy steward of its own properties. It has destroyed once-vibrant neighborhoods all around its perimeter and utterly changed the landscape of Bloomington. It would have been far better for the city if these hundred homes had remained within the tax base and provided families and renters with good-quality places to live. Instead, they have become vast expanses of paved surface. Any benefit from demolition is purely IU’s, not the public’s.