Gary, Ind. — On a crisp fall day, a workman manicures Leatrix Lamberson’s lawn as she sits on the porch of her immaculate red-and-white house on Virginia Street. The elderly black woman watches with approval, and she is dressed to the nines herself, wearing a sparkly purple top, pressed slacks, and matching shoes and earrings. But despite decades of obvious care — flowers fill the planters in front of her house, and even the trim looks freshly coated — Leatrix has a terrible view.
Across the street are two abandoned houses, windows shattered or boarded up, the paint chipped, and the lawns overgrown. One was home to a police officer and his child, and when they sold it, it went for only $11,000, Leatrix says. It has since gone derelict. Down the street are vacant lots, knee-high weeds spilling across the sidewalk. Middle-class houses used to stand there, but they too were abandoned. The blight attracted copper thieves, drug addicts, and arsonists, and Leatrix says that once, several years ago, a boy was slain on the perimeter of her property, a dozen bullets fired through his body.