Mayor: Tenants would benefit from property transfers
Housing Authority could use grants for repairs; tenants would get to keep apts.
This house at 317-319 Deerfield St. is one of the properties likely to be transfered to the Greenfield Housing Authority.
134 Laurel St, Greenfield, MA Recorder/Paul Franz
GREENFIELD — The town is working with Greenfield Housing Authority to prevent four families from becoming homeless this winter.
Mayor William Martin said he has asked the local authority to relocate four families living in two Greenfield properties taken by the town for back taxes while the buildings are repaired and brought up to code.
Then, one of the housing authorities’ nonprofit affiliates would take over the properties after repairs and code work is complete and the properties would go back on the town’s tax roll.
Greenfield Housing Associates, for instance, owns the Winslow building on Main Street, which is on the town’s tax roll.
Town Council recently declared the two properties, one at 317-319 Deerfield St. and one at 134 Laurel St., as “surplus” properties.
The mayor may now transfer them to the local housing authority, which will apply for grants to fix them up and then either return the families currently living in them to their homes or find other families that would be a better fit, according to housing authority Executive Director John Counter.
Martin said it makes more sense for the housing authority to become the landlord of the properties, because it is in the business of doing so.
He said he does not want the town to be a landlord for many reasons, including liability and cost of maintenance and repairs.
Martin said there would be a conflict of interest if the town became a landlord, because Greenfield is also the enforcement authority with its building and health inspectors.
“The GHA has the type of general liability insurance needed to deal with these situations,” said Martin. “The town doesn’t. I wouldn’t want to put the town in that type of situation.”
The town took the Deerfield Street property because about $56,000 is owed in back taxes and the Laurel Street property because about $26,000 is owed.
There are currently three families living in the Deerfield Street four-family apartment building and one family, the owner, living in the one-family Laurel Street home. The owner does not live in the Deerfield Street building.
Counter said the families on Deerfield Street will probably be able to stay in their apartments while work is being done to bring the building up to code, but if any need to be moved, housing will be found for them.
“We don’t want any more homeless folks in Greenfield,” said Martin. “We have to look at these properties, which the town now owns because the previous owners lost them, but we also have to look at the human factor.”
The mayor said the town was required by law to either collect back taxes or take the two properties. Since it has not been able to collect the taxes for several years, it had to seize the two buildings.
He said the town could have evicted the families and auctioned the properties, but did not want to leave so many families homeless.
“The housing authority will have access to grants that the town does not,” said Martin. “The town may actually be able to provide the housing authority with some block grant money, but cannot use its own grants to hire someone to do the work.”
“We are currently working with all of the families and figuring out what their needs are,” said Counter, who said once the properties are transferred to the housing authority, it will apply for money to do the repair and code work.
Marjorie Lane Kelly, the town’s financial director, said the mayor will most likely be going to Town Council this month to ask it to declare another seven properties as “surplus,” which means the mayor may also be asking the housing authority to help with some or all of those properties.
Counter said the housing authority would probably work with the town concerning occupied properties, not boarded-up and other unoccupied properties.
We’ve been working from the highest to the lowest priorities,” said Martin. “We don’t want to leave anyone in the cold this winter.”
Martin said a building owner has plenty of time to catch up on back taxes before a property is taken by the town. He said unfortunately, sometimes unsuspecting families living in those buildings get caught in the middle.
Martin said he would also like to see the two properties, and the seven that will soon follow, repaired so that they don’t lower the valuations of the properties around them.
“This could be a win-win-win situation for the town and its neighborhoods, the housing authority and the families living in these homes,” said Martin.