HAVERHILL — The city is going to war with abandoned, distressed properties that are dragging down neighborhoods and has enlisted the help of police and other departments.
Mayor James Fiorentini said 18 distressed properties have been identified as in need of attention by their owners and that this is just the start.
He said the city compiled a list of 139 properties it considers vacant and in need of attention. Those properties include the former St. George’s Church on upper Washington Street, which developers had big plans for turning into condominiums before the economy turned sour.
Now the building has become one of the city’s biggest sources of complaints.
“Neighbors worry that it’s running down the value of their homes,” Fiorentini said.
Police said the former church has been boarded up for years and has been the target of intruders, squatters and vandals as well as the property being littered with trash.
“We’ve reactivated our Code Team, which has been dormant for the last few years,” Fiorentini said. “This is part of our overall attack on blighted properties.”
Last year the City Council approved an ordinance intended to help clean up abandoned and dilapidated homes and crack down on owners.
Under the ordinance, property owners — often a bank or similar entity that holds a mortgage on the property — must pay $250 to register abandoned homes with the city, although city inspectors have discretion to waive those fees and fines in certain circumstances, such if the owner has experienced financial hardship or died and the property is in probate court. They are also subject to fines of up $300 per week for failing to register, or if they fail to provide basic maintenance on their property once it is uninhabited.
“As a result, we’ve stepped up our attack and 139 properties were registered as being vacant,” Fiorentini said. “The fact that a property is vacant isn’t necessarily a problem, as these properties can be kept up and we don’t have a problem with that.”