Slum God

First, a history lesson.

Marion, Indiana was hit exceptionally hard by the Carter-Reagan Recession of 1979-1982. A symbol of Marion's woes was a Holiday Inn under construction on the northeast side of the interchange of Interstate 69 and State Road 18. When that Recession hit, construction ceased, leaving the shell of a two-story building, with tall unkempt grass outside and a tree growing in the middle. The building was left standing for more than two decades, becoming known as the Ghost Motel, a symbol of Marion's decay for everyone driving along the interstate to see.

Eventually the Ghost Motel was torn down; a gas station and convenience store are now on the site.

Marion has lost a quarter of its population since 1970, and it is still losing people. It has also lost most of its major industries; the only one remaining from 1970 is the General Motors stamping plant on its northwest side. The only other major employers left are services: Marion General Hospital and Indiana Wesleyan University. The city's median income level for 2013 is $31,391; 77% of able-bodied people work as managers, salesfolk and in other service jobs; and 1 in 4 earn below the poverty level.

Muncie and Anderson have lost people and industry as well. However, Anderson's location near Indianapolis makes it suitable as a bedroom town, while Muncie has Ball State University and Ball Memorial Hospital — however much the local politicians hate the dependence. And, at least both cities still retain enough of their people to drag their hapless surrounding counties (Delaware and Madison, respectively) along with them. Marion, however, has lost so many citizens and so much pull that it is forced to bargain with Gas City and other towns in the surrounding Grant County in order to get anything it wants done.

Finally, the state political machine in Indianapolis is evidently hostile to Marion. That is the only way to look at having Marion crammed into General Assembly districts with disparate, relatively well-off towns and farms, only a handful of which are in the same county.

Such a miserable state of existence breeds slum gods of the same variety as those who live in Indianapolis and the Calumet region near Chicago. And here is the reason for my tale: One such slum god has bought at auction one of the oldest houses in Fairmount on Washington Street near the railroad tracks. It is true that we have houses in Fairmount owned by absentee landowners, who leave the houses to rot as write-off on their taxes. However, this is not an absentee landowner; this is a slum god, whose properties in Marion (including an old elementary school near where I used to live as a kid) are known for poor upkeep and poor (in either or both senses of the word) tenants.

I have learned of this as of this evening. The local residents are in an uproar. The slum god will still need approval from the local zoning board in order to turn the house into an apartment block. I have no doubt that the board meeting will be well attended.