MIT Student Najah Shakir presents findings to community members and officials in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Photo by Jeffrey Juarez.
On December 1st, student participants in the MIT@Lawrence practicum hosted their final public meeting for 2010 in Lawrence, Massachusetts. At the meeting, MIT@Lawrence practicum participants presented: Tactics and Tools for Improving Registration, Compliance and Enforcement of Abandoned and/or Foreclosed Properties.
There were numerous community partners in attendance, including Mayor William Lantigua, Economic Development Director Patrick Blanchette, Community Development Director James Barnes, Inspectional Services Director Peter Blanchette, Tamar Kotelchuck of Lawrence CommunityWorks, as well as MIT alumni, MIT students (not enrolled in the practicum), and even a prospective MIT student.
As stated in their original blog post, in September these students set out to investigate the effectiveness of a newly passed ordinance in the City of Lawrence aimed at regulating the maintenance of abandoned and foreclosed residential properties:
In 2005, predatory lending emerged as a serious problem in Lawrence. By 2007, homeowners throughout the country witnessed the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry. In Lawrence and beyond, housing stock has become the property of lending institutions, or “real-estate owned” (REO).
REO’s are residential properties whose ownership has reverted back to banks or other mortgage holders. Such properties are problematic because they typically remain vacant and are oftentimes neglected. REOs are vulnerable to vandalism, dumping, and illegal occupancy.
Studies show that REOs drive down property values, decrease local tax revenues, and require additional public services, such as police and fire protection. These problems are magnified because Lawrence and other cities suffering from budget deficits have had to make tough cuts, including reductions in police and fire services. Moreover, foreclosures of multi-family properties put renters at risk of eviction.
Their recommendations for improving registration of such properties included:
1) A bilingual registration packet for REO property managers that will be available at City Hall and on the Web;
2) Sending monthly letters and registration packets to owners of new REO (Real Estate Owned) properties to ensure timely registration; and
3) Working with local and state agencies to create a comprehensive list of REO properties.
Their recommendations for improving compliance with the municipal ordinance on maintaining REO properties included:
1) Designing and adding a new sign to the registration packet that will be filled out by the registrant and posted on the street-facing side of the property (either in a window or laminated and on the exterior of the building). The sign includes the property manager’s name and local phone number, as well as the property’s registration date.
Lastly, student recommendations for improving enforcement of the municipal ordinance included:
1) Separate fines for ordinance violations to better monitor enforcement;
2) Implementation of a vacant and foreclosed property hotline;
3) Design and distribution of a universal template for tracking property-related data across different departments and agencies; (e.g. Inspectional Services, Registry of Deeds, Fire Department, Police Department, et cetera)
4) Applying increased revenues from fines to start an e-ticketing system;
Students also investigated and shared best practices for the registration, compliance, and enforcement of vacant and/or abandoned properties in nearby cities such as Boston, Lowell, and Lynn. The final report will be available at www.MITatLawerence.net by January 1, 2011.
After the students’ presentation, community partners and meeting participants provided feedback. Here are some notable quotes:
Mayor William Lantigua:
“My fear is that these buildings will catch fire. Banks cannot get away with letting properties sit there. They have to be responsible. A lot of banks aren’t located in Massachusetts. That’s a problem. There is one thing we will be doing. We will get these properties registered and boarded up. We will do everything we can to make this better.”
Peter Blanchette, Head of Lawrence Inspectional Services and Building Commissioner:
“This group has given my office the tools to get the job done. We want to make a safe environment for residents.”
Kristen Harol, MIT alumna ‘99 and former Deputy Director of Lawrence CommunityWorks:
“I’ve been living in Lawrence for 10 years and have never seen the city government so engaged in working with MIT to solve problems.”
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Post by Lorlene Hoyt, Polina Bakhteiarov, and Jeffery Juarez.