Nobody Home

May 2, 2008
By

John Ruch

JP’s Abandoned Buildings

The number of abandoned buildings in Jamaica Plain remained about the same between 2006 and 2007, while the citywide count dropped significantly, according to the city’s 11th annual abandoned properties report.

But JP still has one of the lowest abandonment rates in the city, with only eight properties on the list.

Local residential or mixed-use properties on the list include 51-55 Heath St., 279 Lamartine St. and 34 Notre Dame St.

Commercial or industrial properties include 181 Amory St., 1589 Columbus Ave., 33-37 S. Huntington Ave., 3012 Washington St. and 3700 Washington St.

The citywide count in 2007 was 310 abandoned buildings, almost evenly split between residential and industrial/commercial sites. That figure was down from 354 abandoned properties in 2006. Since the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) began counting abandoned buildings in 1997, the citywide total has dropped by 70 percent.

While the total number of abandoned buildings decreased, there was still a large number of new properties added to the list. Since 2006, 108 properties moved off of the list, while 63 new ones were added.

Most of JP’s abandoned buildings have been that way for years and were on the 2006 list. But there was some turnover. The Columbus and Notre Dame properties, and part of the Heath property, were added to the list last year. Meanwhile, 80 Jamaica St., 10 Westminster Ave. and 3425 Washington St. all moved off of the list due to redevelopment or other new uses.

The list was compiled last summer and fall and may already be out of date. This year’s count will begin in the summer.

“The mayor wants to know what’s going on in the neighborhoods,” said DND spokesperson Kerry O’Brien about the reason for conducting the count. The goal is “trying to bring [the properties] back to productive use,” she said.

DND compiles the list by canvassing city streets and checking city assessing and Fire Department records. DND defines “abandoned” as any building that appears not to be occupied and “has visible signs of physical distress.” Sheds and garages on residential property aren’t counted.

The report acknowledges that DND may miss some abandoned properties while possibly incorrectly reporting buildings used for storage as abandoned.

DND compiles the list to encourage reuse of the buildings. Part of the city’s “Leading the Way” strategy to increase housing is the reclamation of abandoned residential buildings.

Current owners of abandoned properties are contacted, if possible, and offered DND advice on financing, renovating and/or marketing.

JP sites

Failed or pending reuse attempts surround several of JP’s abandoned properties. Most of them also have city liens for unpaid property taxes, according to city and county records.

The 181 Amory industrial building has been vacant for about 20 years. In 2006, the property was announced as the possible location of an “eco-village,” an environmentally conscious co-op condominium. But those plans have not materialized.

The 51-55 Heath properties were recently listed for sale by an out-of-town broker. The city holds tax liens on the property. (DND counts 51, 53 and 55 Heath as separate properties, but they are one site in practice and have the same owner.)

The house at 279 Lamartine has been the target of community complaints for about four years about such issues as people apparently camping in the yard. Last year, it was boarded up by city officials and the Sheriff’s Department. On March 24, it was sold to a bank in a mortgage foreclosure auction, according to county records.

The S. Huntington property is where a heating/air-conditioning company and a locksmith used to do business, surrounded by larger parcels collectively numbered 31-45 S. Huntington. A large condo building was proposed there in 2002, but financing reportedly fell through.

Another condo project was proposed in 2004. But in 2005, the locksmith filed a legal claim asserting his property rights, according to county records. That appears to be a factor in the lack of redevelopment of the site. The buildings on the property have been vacant since around 2004.

More than a decade ago, a parking lot was proposed for 3012 Washington. The idea drew controversy. The city filed a lien for unpaid property taxes on the site earlier this year.

A barbershop operated at 3700 Washington for 63 years before it closed in 2003. In 2004, a proposal to open a Domino’s Pizza there was driven out by neighborhood opposition.

The city filed a tax lien on the 1589 Columbus industrial building last year. And the 34 Notre Dame residential property has had a city tax lien for 20 years.

Other stats

The 2007 report included a new focus on foreclosure-related abandonment. Foreclosure is when a lender takes possession of a property after the owner defaults on a mortgage loan. Foreclosure was not a significant issue in JP’s abandonment rates. But citywide, 17 percent of 2007’s abandoned buildings were involved in some stage of foreclosure proceedings, according to the report.

DND also reports abandonment rates by neighborhood and compares them year-to-year. But those figures are incorrect because DND, like most city agencies, bases the data analysis on an incorrect Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) map. The BRA map considers large portions of JP to be in Roxbury and Roslindale, while including parts of Mission Hill and the Longwood Medical Area in JP. (Among other oddities, the map puts the JP police station in Roxbury, Forest Hills T Station in Roslindale and Mission Church in JP.) As previously reported in the Gazette, the map was drawn years ago for census-counting convenience and is now used as a standard by city agencies. Other organizations, including the Gazette, conduct independent analyses of census date based on the main JP 02130 ZIP code.

In the 2007 count, three Mission Hill properties are listed as in JP, while five JP properties are listed as Roxbury or Roslindale.

In any case, the data shows that JP has far fewer abandoned properties than such neighborhoods as Dorchester.

Residents are welcome to notify DND about properties that appear to be abandoned. Tips are collected by Ron Farrar at 635-0340 or rfarrar.dnd@cityofboston.gov.

To see the full list of abandoned buildings and an interactive map, see www.cityofboston.gov/dnd.