hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

July 13, 2012

Editorial: New anti-blight strategy begins to show results


The public has become understandably jaded about public officials' periodic pronouncements of crackdowns and initiatives aimed at addressing the latest community problem.

Too many go nowhere after the initial fanfare.

So it's refreshing to hear that an effort launched by Mayor James Fiorentini to reclaim the blighted and abandoned homes that dot the city is beginning to bear fruit.

The program holds out the threat of receivership for properties whose owners have failed to take care of them.

The city works with the office of Attorney General Martha Coakley ask the Housing Court to appoint a receiver with the power to repair the property at the owner's expense. If the owner won't pay, the receiver takes over the property and can sell it.

Twenty-five properties were initially targeted for the program.

So far, the city has not had to seek receivership, but two of the properties have been taken over by the banks holding the mortgages and repairs have begun.

"The model right now is working and providing results," said Community Development Director Andrew Herlihy. (See story on page 1 by Alex Lippa.)

One of the two properties being cleaned up is the single-family home at 69 5th Ave. in front of which Fiorentini announced the anti-blight campaign in late March. Neighbors had complained repeatedly about the derelict property, where bags of trash ripped open by animals and parts of an old TV littered the yard. The owner had ignored complaints and failed to show up for court appearances.

Now the city has prodded Deutsche Bank to hire a contractor to work with the city to bring the building into compliance with city codes. A Dumpster was filled in a matter of hours, and windows have been boarded up to keep out vandals and vagrants.

Herlihy said the bank stepped in because it didn't want to lose the building.

The other property where a bank has stepped in ahead of a receiver is a three-decker at 30-32 Primrose St.

Two properties in the three months since the program was announced may seem a painfully slow start. But it is a start, and the old process was even slower and largely ineffective.

Meanwhile, about 10 more properties have been added to the target list.

Let's hope the city keeps up the pressure and the momentum builds to put these blighted properties in the hands of owners who will care for them.