It’s Time to Hold Big Banks Accountable in Boston

  - promoted by david

In every neighborhood of Boston there are abandoned, neglected homes that become eyesores, drag down property values and attract crime. Last week, I went to one of these disgraces in Hyde Park where piles of trashed ringed the perimeter, sharp nails poked through loose lumber dangling from the roof and signs posted on a window warned that the structure was unsafe.

Neglected house in Hyde Park

This blighted house in Hyde Park is owned by a huge international bank.

What’s really outrageous is that this shameful sight is owned by a huge international bank that foreclosed on the house several years ago. A bank whose CEO shuttles around the world on a corporate jet, but won’t cut the grass in front of a house they own in a proud neighborhood of this city – it’s outrageous.

In 2010, I passed an ordinance that started to hold big banks accountable for the blighted properties they own in Boston. That ordinance established a registry of foreclosed properties and allowed the city to impose fines on landlords who failed to keep them up. Now, many big banks just pay the fine – it’s a cost of doing business for them – without fulfilling their responsibility as good neighbors.

Now, I’ve proposed going even ever further to hold big banks accountable and as mayor, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

  • If the big bank refuses to pay the initial fine, or if the fine does not cover the necessary improvements to the property, the Inspectional Services Department will send notices to the big bank’s corporate office specifically laying out the improvements that need to be made to make the house look like other houses in the neighborhood.
  • If the big bank has not responded within three months, a city contractor will be assigned to bring the property up to code and the bank will be billed for the cost taking advantage of Code of Massachusetts Regulation (CMR) 105 sec. 410.960.
  • If the big bank does not pay for the cost of the city contractor’s services within 3 months, the city will put a Municipal Lien on the property, which will require the big bank to reimburse the city before the property is sold.
  • If the big banks have not reimbursed the people of Boston for the costs of the upkeep within a year, the city will apply for receivership of the property, allowing the existing structures to be razed and the property sold to developers who commit to building an appropriate structure on it.
  • If the city is forced to take receivership of a neglected property owned by a big bank, the City of Boston will no longer send our business – or our investments to that big bank.

I don’t care how big these banks are. They have a responsibility to their neighborhoods and people who live them to maintain what they own, just like every homeowner. And if they don’t meet that responsibility, I am going to hold them accountable.



Discuss

9 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Great idea, Rob- but why allow them so much time?

    I’d give them a maximum of one month for each disciplinary level, and certainly not a full year for the last step.

    • Raise the price of the fine

      Eventually, the “cost of doing business” will be noticeable, and they’ll unload the properties to a “We Buy Ugly Houses” type of group. Whether that solution is better than the problem now is unclear.

      The city managing 100s of properties isn’t going to be easy. The number of properties in this state will wax and wane, and Boston will have to either (a) contract it out, (b) have it’s staff grow and shrink, or (c) constantly pulling employees off of other priorities, or (d) this will start with a bang and go out with a whimper.

      Finally, I wonder: who does eventually buy these properties? Developers who (gut?)-rehab and flip? DIYers struggling for cheap housing? Never-actually-DIYers who buy poor conditions and let them get worse? That is to say, what will be the results on the housing market?

  2. What an opportunity for Madison Park Vocational School & New Market Tax Credits

    Boston has enough people flipping and flopping property; these properties shouldn’t be about profit. We can always use affordable housing for low-income families or non-profits serving no income group homes for the disabled and elderly. I’d like to see these properties go to Habitat for Humanity or another non-profit community group for rehab and remain in low, no income housing stock. How about Madison Park Vocational School being part of any non-profit partnership that rehabs these properties? These properties could provide the “real world” experience and skills for Boston’s Voc students that can’t be learned in a classroom. Renovating these properties could lead Voc students to several licenses in the trades before they graduate. We could even include housing rehab as part of our night school for adults wanting to enter the trades and obtain licensure. (I’ve been making a mess of my kitchen plumbing for the last 3 days and would surely sign-up!) Also, banks might be willing to turn these properties over to the community faster for non-profit use, because they would get a tax deduction. Boston could use its share of the $130,000,000. in New Market Tax Credits to make this a reality.

    • I like a lot of this...

      but wince at Habitat for Humanity. Frankly, I’m not so sure H4H is such a great idea. Building a home requires skilled labor — not just skilled managing of the labor. Using the houses as learning labs for voc ed? Fabulous. Letting people who’s hammer swinging experience is limited to hanging pictures on the wall contribute by framing or hanging sheet rock? I’m skeptical that the long term outcome is nearly as good.

      I write this having volunteered for H4H in three different states.

      • Certainly your right...but then there is the "Katrina Cottage"

        Of course you’re probably right about H4H, but I did add the disclaimer “or another non-profit community group” and should have added, “of volunteering professional builders and contractors!” :-) With the current move to “go micro” I have visions of these abandoned properties turning into highly populated, little, expensive, for-profit villages of prefabricated 1 room Katrina Cottages, bought by New Market Tax Credit investors out to make a buck on the homeless or poor families.

        • Zoning

          Zoning may prohibit some Katrina Cottages (minimum home size, etc). Furthermore, if there’s going to be a teardown, it will be to replace with as large a unit as possible — all the way to the setback lines, maximum FAR, maximum units, and minimum parking spaces. That is, after all, how to maximize rent/total price for the investment. It has the impact of providing (relatively!) low cost safe (up to building code!) housing. It also has aesthetic and neighborhood impacts which I’ll leave for another time.

  3. Housing Forum No Show

    I was wondering why, Mr. Consalvo, you didn’t come to the Housing Forum last night in Chinatown and share your perspective. Sponsored by a large number of neighborhood groups like Boston Tenants Coalition, Chinese Progressive Association – and Progressive Mass, the forum dealt with this and other issues around affordable housing and community development. In addition, you are one of only a few candidates for Mayor who has not submitted a completed questionnaire to Right to the City – a group looking to address issues of economic justice.

    We are anxious to hear your views on issues important to progressives and community activists interested in staving off gentrification and addressing issues like foreclosures, neighborhood stabilization and public land for public use.

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