Workshop to advise on costs of abandoned houses to towns

  • Abandoned home Contributed photo—

  • Abandoned home Contributed photo—

Recorder Staff
Monday, March 05, 2018

We’ve all driven by them: those faded, empty houses with sagging shutters and broken doors, those mysterious barns with junk jutting through ruptured walls, and collapsed roofs dangling over all.

Such buildings cost towns more than just uncollected tax dollars: they cause fires, environmental and human health hazards and affect the property values of surrounding buildings.

How abandoned structures affect the towns they sit in, and what can be done about them, is the subject of a workshop to be presented on Thursday by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments for town health boards. The workshop begins at 6 p.m. in the Olver Transit Center, 12 Olive St.

One hope is that the workshop will encourage participating towns to form a task force to address such properties. According to an “Abandoned Property Tool Kit,” put together by the Council of Governments for this workshop, larger local towns keep track of distressed properties within their town boundaries, but most smaller towns do not.

For instance, last year, Greenfield had about 125 such properties, most of which were listed with the building inspectors, according to the report. In 2013, Athol had 180 abandoned properties, most of which were homes. The Abandoned Housing Initiative, in the state Attorney General’s Office, has received about 1,400 distressed property referrals in at least 90 cities and towns throughout the state.

Also, about 12,000 fires a year are reported in vacant structures throughout the country, costing millions in property damage plus firefighting costs to communities.

The Council of Governments says addressing abandoned or distressed houses may seem beyond the control of local governments, “but taking no action can allow the problem to grow and worsen.”

The workshop will include ways for towns to conduct an inventory of such properties and procedures intended to first get voluntary compliance from property owners.

The Council of Governments says having an inventory can help towns in applying for Community Development Block Grants and other grant programs. The workshop will also talk about what kind of information should be included in this inventory, how to prioritize addressing properties, and what steps can be taken.

Presenters include Kara Cunha, an assistant attorney general out of the Springfield office; Glen Ohlund, community development director of the Franklin County Regional Housing Authority, regional Health Agent Glen Ayers, and Mary Chicoine, the Council of Governments’ senior land-use and natural resources planner.

The workshop is free, but to register, call 413-774-3167, ext. 131; or email: registrations@frcog.org