Posted October 18th 2010 at 9:37 am by
in Lawrence

Taking Back Lawrence, Massachusetts: First Alleyways and Canals, Next Abandoned Residential Properties

Najah Shakir, Project Manger of the Fall 2010 MIT@Lawrence practicum, baked these cupcakes for her class mates in honor of ‘M@L‘. MIT@Lawrence is an ever-growing community of learners from both Lawrence, Massachusetts and MIT.  The partnership is over a decade old.  Photo by Huma Gupta.

On Monday, September 27th, MIT students Polina Bakhteiarov and Jeffery Juarez presented the analysis on Transforming and Cleaning the Canals and Alleyways to civic leaders in Lawrence who are now working to implement these student recommendations from spring of 2010. Polina and Jeffrey are now teaching assistants for the fall 2010 practicum course on Lawrence, which is similarly focused on helping Mayor Lantigua “overhaul the way city does business.”

This time, we are investigating the effectiveness of a newly passed ordinance 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.

This semester, a group of eight students from across degree programs (undergraduates, master’s students, and PhD’s) are investigating the status, distribution, and management of bank-owned properties in Lawrence in relation to the city ordinance. The ordinance grants the Inspectional Services Department “the authority to protect and serve public safety, security, and quiet enjoyment of occupants” and requires residential property owners, “including lenders, trustees, and service companies, to properly maintain abandoned and/or foreclosed properties.” Our primary partners are Community Development Director James Barnes and Economic Development Director Patrick Blanchette.

The practicum is organized into five phases: (1) orientation, (2) sprint one, (3) sprint two, (4) sprint three, and (5) transition. During the first sprint, students aim to answer the following questions:

•  How many foreclosures are there in Lawrence at present?

•  Do foreclosures cluster? If so, where do they cluster?

•  Which neighborhoods suffer most from foreclosures?

•  What kinds of properties are affected by foreclosures?

•  Who are the property holders?

•  What are the overall patterns (i.e. property type-location-holder)?

•  Are foreclosed property holders complying with the ordinance by maintaining properties?

•  Are they posting contact information on the properties?

•  Who are the stakeholders directly involved with the ordinance?

•  How does the property registration process currently work?

•  How does the ordinance enforcement process currently work?

•  Are fines for negligence being issued?

•  Are REOs generating revenue for the City of Lawrence?

To date, students have completed numerous interviews with relevant people in Lawrence. They have also tapped into the online database of foreclosed properties that was recently created by the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Authority (CHAPA) and the Warren Group to collect, analyze, and publicly present information about REOs in Lawrence. Students are using these data to map the distribution of foreclosures and they are conducting field surveys to document the physical characteristics of the REOs.

Additionally, approximately sixty 8th graders from the Lawrence Family Development Charter School (LFDCS) will contribute to the investigation. On Friday, October 15th, the LFDCS students worked hand-in-hand with practicum students to create public service announcements urging residents and civic leaders in Lawrence to report problematic abandoned properties.

At the end of each phase of the practicum, students and instructors reflect on their practice. We believe that transformative learning occurs when your assumptions are challenged. The reflection exercise is designed to help participants identify and unpack moments that they found surprising. In doing so, we aim to build on two themes throughout the semester: (1) challenges faced by the community and (2) challenges of collaborative practice. Video student reflections on the orientation phase are available here.

Please contact with questions, comments, or suggestions.

Stay tuned!

Post by Lorlene Hoyt, Polina Bakhteiarov, and Jeffery Juarez.

0 responses to “Taking Back Lawrence, Massachusetts: First Alleyways and Canals, Next Abandoned Residential Properties”

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