Legislation Proposed To Help Municipalities Battle Blight

May 25, 2016

This house on Oakland Street in Springfield,Ma was torn down after it was abandoned and the city obtained a court order to demolish it
Credit WAMC

    A state legislator from Springfield is working to craft a bill he believes will make it easier for municipalities throughout Massachusetts to rid neighborhoods of abandoned, blighted buildings by forcing owners to step out of the shadows.

    State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield is crafting legislation that would set a 30-day deadline in Massachusetts to register the transfer of ownership of a property.  He said too often when there is a foreclosure, or distress sale, there is an inexplicable delay in registering the new ownership. It makes it difficult for officials to find the rightful owner if the property is later abandoned.

  " This is a problem throughout the state," said Gonzalez. " Finding out who owns a property is more difficult than getting a loan."

   Gonzalez said his proposed legislation is in the “research stage.”  He said he’s been meeting with community groups and representatives from the home-lending industry.

" It seems like a longer process than necessary to go and file the deed," he said.

   The legislation was endorsed by Springfield city officials as they stood in front of a rodent-invested abandoned house that Mayor Domenic Sarno explained had taken years to obtain a court order to demolish.

   " We had to go through a quagmire of who had the property," said Sarno. " In the meantime (neighbors) have to suffer."

   Springfield Code Enforcement Commissioner Steven Desilets said his office spends a lot of time trying to track down the actual owner of an abandoned building in an effort to enforce orders to fix code violations.

" A lot of times it leads to the foreclosed owner still being the legal owner of record because the bank is walking around with the deed in their back pocket," said Desilets.

  The city has waged a fight against blight for several years utilizing federal funds awarded to Springfield as a result of the city being severely impacted by the foreclosure crisis. The city council approved a $5 million bond fund in 2014 to pay to demolish blighted buildings.

   A long-vacant abandoned house on Oakland Street in the city’s Forest Park neighborhood was torn down Monday, as city officials and neighbors looked on.

   Hipolita Medina said she was happy to see the house torn down.  She called it " ugly and unclean," according to Rep. Gonzalez who translated her Spanish.

      The city will attempt to recover through a lien on the property the $29,000 cost of the demolition.