On October 20th, student participants in the MIT@Lawrence practicum hosted their first public meeting in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Numerous community partners attended, including representatives from city government (Economic Development, Community Development, Planning and Development, and Police) and non-profit organizations such as Lawrence CommunityWorks.
In preparation for the meeting, students gathered data by:
• conducting a field survey of Real Estate Owned (REO) properties;
• querying foreclosure data from the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association’s online database;
• interviewing local civic leaders and city officials; and
• engaging 8th grade students from the Lawrence Family Development Charter School by facilitating the production of public service announcements aimed at raising awareness.
At the public meeting in Lawrence, practicum students presented the following:
• in September 2010, there were 141 REO properties, 365 properties in foreclosure auctions, and 372 petitions to foreclose in Lawrence;
• there is no one bank that holds a majority of REOs and foreclosures; the top three owners with the greatest number of properties in Lawrence are Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, and Deutsche Bank;
• of the 28 properties surveyed thus far, only a third complied with the ordinance by way of signage indicating the owner/manager’s contact information; and
• interviews reveal that since the implementation of the ordinance there has been a decrease in the types of criminal activity associated with vacant/abandoned properties (arson, theft, vandalism, and drug dealing).
By the end of the public meeting, community partners asked students to continue their investigation by:
• documenting how the ordinance is intended to function, how it is functioning, and where improvements are needed (including changes to the ordinance itself);
• completing the field survey of REOs, with an eye toward such characteristics as posted signage, boarded/sealed windows and doors, et cetera;
• creating a stakeholder map to illuminate the complexity of the foreclosure problem and the flow of, as well as problems with, communication among various institutions and agencies;
• identifying long-term REOs;
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Post by Lorlene Hoyt, Polina Bakhteiarov, and Jeffrey Juarez.