Ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrates “win-win” for Salem neighbors and Mayor Driscoll
By Shelley A. Sackett
All photos by Shelley A. Sackett
The neighbors of 28 Jackson Street had much to celebrate on August 26 when City of Salem’s Mayor Kimberley Driscoll cut the ribbon to commemorate the completion of the City’s first home rehabilitation undertaken through the Massachusetts’ Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative (AHI).
“We were all so embarrassed for so many years when this was the first thing people would see when they turned down to our street,” said Carol Michaud who lives on adjacent Francis Street.
“We’re ecstatic,” echoed Mary L’Heureux, who has lived on Francis Street for 46 years. “[Mayor] Kim [Driscoll] came through.”
When the owner abandoned the foreclosed property, neighbors complained about deteriorating conditions at the property. Because the City was unable to issue citations through normal enforcement efforts (due to lack of an entity that could respond to the Building and Health Department’s citations), the City decided to petition the Northeast Housing Court for an appointment of a receiver under the AHI. The receiver, in turn, would make the necessary repairs to bring the property out of its blighted state, up to Code, and into saleable condition.
The time-line was swift.
The Building Department’s involvement began in 2008. The owner was first cited for failure to remove snow and overgrowth on the property, and instructed to repair the roof. There was no response, and the City went in and removed some of the overgrowth in 2013.
Police received numerous calls regarding rodents and the habitat that the property had created for them. After no response from the record owner or property management company for the bank, the City initiated the receivership process in 2014, filing the receivership petition on July 25, 2014 after the owner failed to exterminate the property as ordered.
In late 2014, the court appointed the Charles Hope Companies of North Andover and Lawrence as the receiver. In fewer than four months of construction, the house has been completely turned around and is scheduled to go onto the real estate market with an asking price of $339,900.
Alan Hope, managing partner of the Charles Hope Company, likened his work to a “mitzvah” (a Hebrew term for a charitable, beneficial act). He pointed out that there is a school nearby and that the property made for unsafe walking conditions for children who walked to school. “We made the house livable. It meets code requirements now,” he said.
He also appreciates that the process is managed by courts where there is a “check and balance which non-receivership projects do not have.” He estimates that Charles Hope Company spent about $120,000 on the rehabilitation.
The City does not have a contractual relationship with the receiver. The Northeast Housing Court appoints the receiver and approves its proposed budget for remedying the violations and bringing the property back to habitable use. The receiver is entitled to place a lien on the property for the amount approved by the court. This lien must be paid before any others that may be secured by the property.
“I am very excited to see 28 Jackson Street’s receivership come to a successful completion,” Mayor Driscoll told the Salem Gazette. “This program is a real benefit to all involved: the City puts a much needed residential property back into serviceable use, on the tax rolls. It is now clean, safe, and attractive.
“The neighbors benefit from the elimination of an abandoned, vacant, and derelict property in their neighborhood. And a family will benefit from being able to move into a great home in our community,” Mayor Driscoll added.
In addition to transforming the blighted property at no expense to the City, Salem stands to recover $1,400 in unpaid taxes and charges owed by the prior owner. According to Mayor Driscoll’s office, the 2015 tax bill on the property will be in the neighborhood of $3,700. This is in addition to the $1,400 in back taxes and fees owed to the City by the previous owner, which will be recovered from the sale proceeds. The 2016 property tax bill may be even higher.
The 28 Jackson Street house is the first of a number of similar “problem properties” the City has targeted for renovation through the AHI. Two other properties in Salem currently have a receiver appointed — 12 Hazel Street and 81 Derby Street — and both are in progress.
The 2008 financial crisis resulted in many properties being eligible for receivership because the status of their ownership is in limbo due to abandonment and foreclosure. Other properties that were initially identified for receivership by the City have been sold and are now being rehabilitated privately by the new owners. “Sometimes the pressure of a potential receivership filing can motivate absentee owners to sell or rehab,” Dominick Pangallo, Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, said.
There are fairly specific requirements in the statute for an abandoned property to be eligible for receivership. If residents want to recommend an abandoned property in Salem to the City’s Problem Properties Task Force for review and consideration for receivership, Pangallo suggests they report it to the Mayor’s office by calling 978-619-5600 or by emailing him at email@example.com.
Mayor Driscoll said her office intends to use the AHI program and all the tools at the City’s disposal to address any vacant, abandoned or unsafe properties in the Salem community. “I am looking forward to the successful rehabilitation of 12 Hazel Street and 81 Derby Street next, and I want to thank the team from the Charles Hope Companies for being such good partners in the transformation of this house,” she told The Gazette.