An Indiana city is selling $1 homes to save itself from decay. Here's what you can get for the money.

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Dollar homes Indiana 2Gary Community Development

  • The city of Gary, Indiana, is selling a handful of homes for just $1, but buyers are expected to renovate them within one year.
  • The Dollar Home Program is part of a strategy to reverse decades of urban blight, which has plagued the city since the decline of the steel industry in the 1960s.
  • About a third of homes in Gary are unoccupied or abandoned, but the government remains optimistic that it can breathe new life into its neighborhoods.

The small city of Gary, Indiana, has endured decades of hard times. More than half of its population has disappeared since 1960, and a third of its homes remain unoccupied or abandoned.

Recent years have seen high levels of crime and low levels of employment and education.

The local school district has even taken to selling off dilapidated schools that have dealt with vandalism and arson. Despite their crumbling walls and graffitied doors, the buildings may be the district's last hope for paying off $100 million in accumulated debt.

Read more: 8 cities and towns where you can get a home for free - or buy one at a massive discount

Empty homes are also seen as both a burden and opportunity.

In 2013, the city began selling abandoned properties for a single dollar, provided that the buyer earned at least $35,250 annually and brought the home up to "habitable standards" within a year. At the end of five years, the city would cede full ownership.

The start of the program brought hundreds of applications, though many didn't realize that the homes would require extensive repairs.

A housing coordinator for the city's community development department told The Times of Northwest Indiana that renovations to dollar homes could cost around $20,000 to $30,000. That's still much cheaper than the average home price in Gary, which hovers at around $46,000.

The community development department currently lists a dozen dollar homes on its website. Though all are in need of serious renovation, they have plenty of untapped potential. Take a look below.
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The city of Gary wasn't always in decline.

The city of Gary wasn't always in decline.

With an economy tied to the steel industry, it saw extraordinary growth at the beginning of the 20th century.

With an economy tied to the steel industry, it saw extraordinary growth at the beginning of the 20th century.

The city got its name from Elbert Henry Gary, the founding chairman of the US Steel Corporation.

It has also maintained some surprising connections to Hollywood.

It has also maintained some surprising connections to Hollywood.

As the birthplace of Michael Jackson, Gary hosts an annual tribute to the legendary singer.

The city has also served as a location for films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Though Gary is just 30 minutes outside Chicago, luring residents to the area has proven difficult.

Though Gary is just 30 minutes outside Chicago, luring residents to the area has proven difficult.

Gary's Dollar Home Program isn't the first of its kind.

The program was modeled on an initiative by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which indirectly sold Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson her first home.

Freeman-Wilson originally hoped to sell 50 of the dollar homes each year, but only a handful are listed on the site.

The city opened its Dollar Home Program to non-residents to attract more buyers.

The city opened its Dollar Home Program to non-residents to attract more buyers.

Source: The Times of Northwest Indiana

Buyers have no mortgage, but they're expected to pay taxes and utilities.

Buyers have no mortgage, but they're expected to pay taxes and utilities.

They'll also likely have to gut the properties, which are less-than-desirable on the inside.

They'll also likely have to gut the properties, which are less-than-desirable on the inside.

Many of the homes have peeling walls and rusted appliances.

Many of the homes have peeling walls and rusted appliances.

Like many former manufacturing towns, Gary hopes to reverse a period of longstanding blight.

Like many former manufacturing towns, Gary hopes to reverse a period of longstanding blight.

Historian S. Paul O'Hara summed up the city's dollar home program to the New York Times: "It's not flashy," he said. "It doesn't come with promises, but it does come with possibilities."

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