EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 12, 2013

Cities to share grant

Haverhill, Methuen share $140K to fight neighborhood eyesores

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — Haverhill and Methuen will share $140,000 from the Attorney General’s Office to combat abandoned and neglected buildings in each city.

Mayor James Fiorentini, who has recently ramped up the city’s efforts to clean up deteriorated properties, said the money will be used to hire a program manager who will work for both cities.

The person will work with department heads, the Registry of Deeds and the Attorney General’s Abandoned Buildings Initiative to identify abandoned homes and strategies for getting them cleaned up and re-occupied, the mayor said.

Local officials estimate each city has about 100 such properties, and that they drag down property values in neighborhoods where they are located and spur complaints from residents living nearby.

The Haverhill City Council recently passed an ordinance requiring absentee owners — often a bank or similar entity that holds a mortgage on the property — to pay $250 to register their buildings with the city. The owners are subject to fines of up $300 per week if they don’t register, or if they fail to provide basic maintenance on a property once it is uninhabited.

William Buckley, Methuen’s community development director, said his city passed a similar ordinance several years ago. Buckley said Haverhill and Methuen plan to use the money to hire a person who will work for both cities. The grant will pay that person’s salary for two years, he said.

“We think we’ve done a good job identifying vacant properties,” Buckley said. “Our priority now is identifying re-use strategies and enhancing the legal component.”

Buckley said Methuen will look to hire someone with expertise in using the court process to force owners to maintain and repair their buildings.

“We applied for the grant separately, but the AG’s office recognized an opportunity for us to work together to tackle this problem,” Buckley said of Haverhill and Methuen.

Fiorentini said the program manager will oversee Haverhill’s new vacant properties registry, inspect run-down properties for health, sanitary, safety and building code violations, and recommend properties for demolition or receivership through the Northeast Housing Court.

“This manager will oversee neighborhood complaints regarding vacant and abandoned properties and facilitate a faster resolution,” Fiorentini said, noting the city has struggled to solve the problem of abandoned and unkempt homes for many years.

The money for the program was obtained by Attorney General Martha Coakley through a settlement with large banks and sub-prime lending agencies, Fiorentini said.