EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 7, 2013

'Worst of the worst'

City targets 5 abandoned homes for demolition

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — Mayor James Fiorentini will ask City Council for permission to demolish five of the worst abandoned buildings in the city, saying they are hurting property values in neighborhoods.

Council approval is required under state law, the mayor said, and would trigger a public hearing and then a 60-day deadline for the owners to sell their properties, begin maintaining them or risk seeing them knocked down.

The council will consider the request at Tuesday’s meeting at 7 p.m. in City Hall. The public hearing is expected to be Dec. 10, the mayor said.

The properties are: 18 Warren St., 5 Cypress St., 2 Tyler Ave., 36 School St. and 16 Margerie St.

“These buildings are the worst of the worst,” Fiorentini said. “They bring down the values of everything around them and we have received many complaints from people who live near them to do something.”

Fiorentini’s proposal to demolish the buildings is part of the city’s new and aggressive efforts to clean up deteriorated properties in the city. The mayor has estimated there at least 100 such properties in the city. These would be the first buildings demolished under the mayor’s administration that weren’t damaged by fire, he said.

“The best-case scenario is that the owners sell or get a loan and fix up their property,” Fiorentini said. “But we can’t leave these eyesores in our neighborhoods indefinitely.”

Earlier this year, City Council 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.

The city also received a $140,000 grant from the Attorney General’s Office that Haverhill is sharing with Methuen to combat abandoned and neglected buildings in both cities. The money is being used to pay a program manager for both cities. The person is working 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.

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

The city has also been going to court to ask judges to appoint receivers to take over and repair some abandoned buildings. Some buildings, such as the ones the mayor proposes to knock down, aren’t good candidates for that program, however, because they require too much work, he said.

“These buildings are so far gone the receivers don’t want them,” Fiorentini said of the five on his demolition list.

If it goes that far, the city would pay to demolish the buildings and then attach a lien on the properties to recoup the cost, the mayor said. The city would get the money back when the property is eventually sold or the city can go to court to seize the property and sell it, the mayor said.

Several residents have attended recent council meeting to urge councilors to take a harder stance with absentee property owners who don’t take care of their buildings.

Councilor William Ryan said the easiest way to deal with abandoned homes is to demolish them. He said the city had success with this approach when he was mayor in the 1980s.

“Some were nice buildings and it was a shame to tear them down,” Ryan said at a recent council meeting. “But that’s what it took to get their attention that we were serious.”