Don’t abandon all hope – Problem still exists, but not to such a serious degree

By Seth Daniel

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There’s not much good news when it comes to the housing stock in Revere these days, but one piece of good news is that it appears the number of abandoned properties has leveled off.

Inspectional Services Department (ISD) Director Nick Catinazzo told the Journal that his department has just sent out its yearly abandoned building fines and they have identified more than 120 residential and commercial properties around the city.

That’s triple the number of properties listed in 2007, when there were 44, but it’s also nearly the same number as last year’s, when they logged an eye-popping 122.

In early 2007, the city passed an innovative ordinance that allowed it to fine owners for keeping an abandoned property, residential or commercial. Every fall, ISD identifies properties and notifies the owners. After conducting hearings, owners are fined between $500 and $3,000, depending on how long the property has been vacant.

However, little did they know when they drew up the ordinance that it would become a measuring stick for just how bad the national housing crisis has hit Revere.

“The year before the housing crisis, you might get five to 10 commercial properties abandoned and probably 20 homes,” said Catinazzo. “But now, there’s just a tremendous amount out there. I do see it slowing down a little, but I think the next two to three years, it will be the same – this year, next year and the year after – there’s just so many people out of work, and they lose their homes.”

Catinazzo said last year, 2008, was an eye opener for the department, when they found numerous homes where people had just walked away and left everything.

“I think we were all a little stunned about what happened last year,” he said. “When people picture an abandoned property, they picture a boarded-up building with high grass. In some cases, that’s true, but we found really nice houses, really nice, and in some cases they just walked out and even left the furniture. That’s why it became so difficult to identify what was actually abandoned.”

Despite the continuing number of foreclosed and abandoned homes in the city, Catinazzo said one piece of good news is that people no longer seem to be walking away from a property.

“I do get the feeling that has slowed down,” he said. “Once the banks realized there was a crisis across the United States, they got more user friendly.”

A second piece of good news is that many of the abandoned properties on last year’s list have been sold back into private ownership, and don’t appear on the 2009 list of abandoned properties.

“I would say more than 50 percent have been sold off from last year,” he said. “They’re back on the market or already bought.”

However, some persistent problems continue, such as the empty commercial buildings at Northgate – one building that used to house the old Stop & Shop and another that housed the bankrupted National Wholesale Liquidators (NWL).

“The hardest ones seem to be commercial properties because people aren’t going out and starting businesses,” he said. “The bigger the floor area, the harder it is to rent. The old Stop & Shop has been vacant for years, but now the NWL is also vacant. That one, for instance, probably isn’t getting a lot of hits. Those buildings down in Northgate are like a blight. We’ve been on them, but if they pay their taxes and the fines, there’s not much the city can do.”

Other outstanding properties include several empty storefronts on Broadway and the old Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Beachmont, all of which have been issued notices.

Those who received letters will have until mid-November to pay their fines or schedule a hearing on their property.

Mayor Tom Ambrosino, who wrote the innovative abandoned building ordinance and researched it for several months, said he is pleased with how it is working, even in this tough housing market.

“It really is a good tool for getting these properties back on the market and back on the tax rolls,” he said.

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