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I-Team: How local municipalities clean up blighted properties and taxpayers cost

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass (WWLP) – Rundown, boarded up homes are a major problem in Springfield. The city is working to clean them up, but that comes at a cost.

The 22News I-Team looked into how municipalities are tackling their blighted properties, despite limited resources. Debbie Robleto has lived in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield for the past 12 years.

“We try to do the best we can to cope with the neighborhood and the craziness,” Debbie Robleto said. “And as parents, we just deal with it.”

She and her neighbors deal with many homes in disrepair. Right now on her street alone, just steps away from each other, two homes are vacant and boarded up. Robleto worries about drugs and violence in those homes.

“Of course, you got people that go into these places that could go in there to do all kinds of drugs that are totally illegal,” she said.

Debbie’s not alone. The 22News I-Team investigated how blighted properties are inspected. We found that at any given time, four city-paid attorneys are working on some 600 to 800 code cases. Right now, nearly 300 properties in Springfield are flagged as “blighted” – meaning they’re vacant. Some of the properties are single and two-family homes. Others are larger, older buildings.

Steve Desilets, Springfield’s code enforcement commissioner said there is a lot of pressure on them to quickly respond and for good reason. Setting aside potential crime and health concerns, the 22News I-Team found that, in many of these cases, the city is also losing out on much-needed revenue from property taxes. It also hurts the real estate market.

“If people don’t like the look of the street, chances are they’re going to keep moving from there before you even get them to the front door or even in the house,” Steve Desilets said.

Desilets said if the owner or bank doesn’t step up, the city’s next best option is receivership – where a contractor bids on the property with a commitment to rehab. But the 22News I-Team learned that if repairs exceed 50-percent of the value of the property it’s put on a demolition list and Taxpayers foot the bill.  It can cost $45,000 to tear down an average two-family house. 

“If there was a lot of enforcement action over the years to finally get us to that point, the legal cost and the final cost to taxpayers to demolish it – that’s a very expensive process,” Desilets said.

For Debbie in Indian Orchard, the cleanup process can’t happen fast enough.

“There’s a lot of trash areas and it just looks like a city dump as well as empty houses,” Robleto said. “So it’s demeaning the city of Springfield.”

The 22News I-Team also looked into how smaller municipalities handle blighted properties. One health inspector oversees the towns of Monson, Wilbraham, and Hampden. Lorrie McCool said they utilize the State Attorney General’s “Receivership” initiative. Basically, the AG’s office handles the lengthy, legal caseload. 

“It’s a process that would take an extremely long time and a lot of resources that small towns like us may not have,” Health Inspector Lorri McCool said.

To report a blighted property you can contact your local municipality’s town or city offices.  You can also call 311.  It’s a citizen service center for non-emergency services. 

Desilets emphasized the importance of residents reporting problem properties, even homes or buildings with minor issues. He said, “If you see something, say something.”
 

Find 22News on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to reportit@wwlp.com.

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