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City moves to acquire foreclosed properties

Email|Print| Text size + By Binyamin Appelbaum
Globe Staff / February 14, 2008

Boston is moving to buy or seize several foreclosed condominiums in Dorchester in a significant expansion of the city's efforts to prevent abandoned buildings from blighting fragile neighborhoods.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino plans to disclose today the city's intention to acquire the properties, the first such effort in recent memory. He also will propose a new ordinance that would impose fines on owners of abandoned buildings.

Menino will elaborate on the city's plans during a morning visit to Hendry Street in Dorchester, where the recent foreclosures of several buildings are destabilizing the neighborhood, city officials say.

"What's happening in that neighborhood is unacceptable," said Dot Joyce, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

The growing focus on foreclosed properties reflects a new reality. Officials so far have failed in most cases to prevent foreclosures. As a result, city officials are increasingly trying to limit the impact foreclosures have on the surrounding neighborhood. If the city can't help the people who lose their homes, it hopes to help their neighbors.

The problems on Hendry were the subject of a Boston Herald story Sunday. Mortgage companies have foreclosed on eight condos and houses, and four more are in the foreclosure process. The Herald reported that one abandoned home was condemned after city inspectors found it was being used and trashed by squatters.

Officials say the street has quickly become a dumping ground, including for abandoned cars.

Menino responded by pledging to clean the street and to help the area be redeveloped, in part by acquiring the problem properties. The city is exploring several options, including seizing the buildings for unpaid taxes.

"We're just going to get in there and begin to do something and not wait for all the pieces to be lined up," said Pat Canavan, the mayor's housing adviser.

If the Hendry Street effort works, officials say, the city would consider acquiring properties in other areas.

At the same time, the city is stepping up efforts to get the mortgage companies that now own foreclosed properties to take better care of them, or sell them, without government intervention.

The Globe reported yesterday that Providence Mayor David Cicilline is seeking an ordinance that would fine the owners of vacant buildings 10 percent of a building's value if it remains vacant a year after receiving a warning from the city. The massive fine is intended to encourage quick sales by making it cheaper to sell at a loss than to wait for better times.

Menino's office said yesterday the mayor would use the Providence ordinance as a model for one he will soon propose.

Menino met with several of the largest mortgage companies last month. The meeting produced a draft agreement in which the lenders pledged to improve maintenance of foreclosed properties and promised to work with the city on selling those buildings as soon as possible.

A measure filed by Councilor Robert Consalvo would require companies to pay $100 for each vacant property, provide the name of a company responsible for maintenance, and post the information on the property.

Binyamin Appelbaum can be reached at bappelbaum@globe.com.

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