Business and residents evicted

August 10, 2007
By

Jorn Ruch

PONDSIDE—Businesses and residents are being evicted from three houses in the heart of Monument Square amid rumors the relatively affordable rental buildings will be turned into high-priced condominiums.

Ed Sullivan, the buyer’s broker, dismissed resident rumors that the buildings will be torn down for some type of redevelopment.

The houses at 772, 776 and 780 Centre St. are owned by various heirs of Joseph DeLuca of Beacon Hill’s famous DeLuca’s Market, who have regularly battled each other in court. The houses reportedly have been sold together for $1.95 million as part of a court-mediated sealed bidding process, with a closing due in mid-September.

Sullivan declined to name the buyer pending the closing. Sullivan said he does not know whether the houses will remain rental or be converted into condos.

At least six residential units and three businesses are affected by the eviction, which is set for Aug. 31. The businesses include JP Muscular Therapy and Karen Kirchoff’s acupuncture/herbalist service at 780 Centre, and Michael Babcock’s Interrobang Letterpress home printing business at 776 Centre.

“We have been kept in the dark about the new owner,” said Kirchoff. “I heard that they might be leveling the buildings and building on top of them.”

“His plans are to rehabilitate the buildings as they are,” Sullivan said of the buyer, calling the demolition rumor “fanciful.”

“I don’t know who came up with that, but that’s not what he’s going to do,” Sullivan said of demolition.

“It’s a fabulous location,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he does not know if the buyer intends to keep commercial uses in 780 Centre.

“I always assumed that whoever buys them would convert them to condos,” said Jim Fay of Street & Company, who represents the sellers in the deal, adding he has no knowledge of the buyer’s plan.

Babcock, who made a failed bid for his house, noted that the sales price is so high that any future use—whether new development or condo conversion—will likely be expensive.

“Forget about affordable housing,” he said. “This is going to be ‘luxury condos at the Monument,’ blah, blah, blah.”

All of the buildings are currently rentals, reportedly at rates at or below market. Kirchoff and Babcock said they and other tenants are having trouble finding new locations in Jamaica Plain.

“Basically, we’re concerned about displacement,” Kirchoff said. She added that during her 11 years in business at 780 Centre, she has always offered a sliding scale of fees for lower-income clients.

“Most of the rents out there are so high it would be almost impossible for me to provide a kind of sliding scale,” Kirchoff said. As of last week, she said, she had yet to find a new location.

Babcock, a 15-year resident who has not had a lease for years, said he is also struggling to find a new place in JP. As a bicycle commuter, he said, he needs a fairly central location. And his unusual part-time business of old-school printing services requires a lot of space.

“I’ve got, like, two tons of type, two printing presses, at least 1,000 books,” he said.

Babcock said he probably won’t make the Aug. 31 move-out deadline and is “losing sleep” over the potential consequences.

“I don’t want to sit on the front step with a shotgun to keep out the bulldozer,” he said.

Some tenants have already moved to Framingham, Babcock said, while others moved deeper into Boston’s outskirts and have been forced to buy a car.

“It’s making hardships for people all around,” he said.

Kirchoff and Babcock said the properties have been poorly maintained, with tenants doing most of the work. The eviction news was delivered through notes taped to doors, both said.

Street & Company has also been the management company for about 10 to 20 years, according to Fay.

“I don’t want to comment on that,” he said of the reported maintenance issues. “It’s a nice group of people over there. I got along well with all of them.”

Sullivan said the houses are “definitely in need of repairs.”
Owners and bids

According to City of Boston records, 780 Centre is owned by a Joseph DeLuca trust, whose trustees include Virgil, Robert and Gerald Aiello. The other houses are owned by trusts represented by Robert Aiello.

According to the Beacon Hill Times, the Aiellos for years have battled in court over various pieces of real estate inherited from DeLuca. That includes DeLuca’s Market itself, now operated by Virgil Aiello. The battles have occasionally involved criminal accusations as well, including an alleged death threat, the Times reported in 2002.

Babcock said the Monument Square houses became the focus of another legal battle among the Aiellos over the past two years, resulting in a court-mediated sell-off of the properties.

Reached at DeLuca’s, Virgil Aiello told the Gazette, “I’m not too up to date on [the sale]. You probably know more about it than I do.”

He did confirm that the properties were for sale, but declined to comment when asked about the circumstances of the sale. Fay also declined to comment on the record.

Asked about the identity of the buyer and why all current tenants were being evicted, Virgil Aiello said, “I have no information I can give you.”

Fay declined to comment on the record about the circumstances of the sale. He referred questions about the buyer’s identity to Sullivan.

Babcock said he learned of the situation when a court-appointed attorney toured 776 Centre. Babcock then submitted a sealed bid on his house.

“I paid an appraiser to come in and give me a realistic number,” Babcock said. That figure, he said, was $470,000, with the proviso that the house needs about $50,000 to $80,000 in repairs and renovations.

But, Babcock said, the court-appointed attorney took the eventual winning bid of $1.95 million for all the houses and divided it by three, then “told me, ‘You’ve got to beat $650,000 to buy this place.’”

Babcock protested that the figure didn’t match his appraisal and includes the sales figure for 780 Centre, which includes much more land than the other two houses. In any case, he said, he could not afford to pay more than his own appraiser’s suggested value.

Babcock said the attorney later cited a $560,000 sales price for 776 Centre, which was still beyond Babcock’s reach.

The city’s Assessing Department values the three properties combined at about $1.5 million for tax purposes. It values 776 Centre at $534,700.