Nobody Home

October 9, 2009
By

John Ruch

JP’s Abandoned Buildings

Real Estate Today

The number of abandoned buildings in Jamaica Plain remained about the same between 2007 and 2008—and was one of the city’s lowest rates—according to the Department of Neighborhood Development’s (DND) 12th annual abandoned properties report. Citywide, the abandonment rate went up slightly, to a total of 318 buildings, largely due to mortgage foreclosures.

JP had at least eight abandoned properties, and there were another three in the Egleston Square area of Roxbury covered by the Gazette.

The Gazette generated its own, accurate list of JP properties from the report’s data, because DND’s analysis is based on an incorrect Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) map of Boston neighborhoods.

The 2008 report also came out about six months late, and its data is already at least 10 months old. The Gazette has sought the report for most of this year, and received it from DND last week before it was officially released.

The delay was mostly due to adjusting the survey methods to meet new initiatives dealing with foreclosed properties, a major source of abandonment, according to DND spokesperson Lucy Warsh. Those efforts include the city’s new foreclosed/abandoned property registration ordinance, and a federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant awarded to DND.

The point of the survey is to target property owners in trouble and offer them help. DND and other city agencies provide advice on financing, renovating and marketing. DND recently issued a separate report on Boston foreclosures. [See related article.]

One result of the program-related tweaking is that the report is now called “Distressed Buildings” rather than “Abandoned Buildings” to meet federal grant lingo. Another big change was that the surveying now includes properties owned by banks that bought them back at foreclosure auctions. Also, under another grant program, the 2008 survey was conducted with new technology, including Global Positioning System devices with built-in cameras.

The 2009 abandoned property survey will get under way this fall and continue through winter. It appears that the 2009 report will be ready in the spring, as in previous years.

DND acknowledges that it may miss some abandoned properties or incorrectly report buildings used for storage as abandoned. The DND report defines “distressed” as any building, aside from sheds or garages on residential property, that “is not occupied and has visible signs of physical distress (boarded, burned, open to the elements, otherwise deteriorated, etc.).”

JP properties

Most of JP’s abandoned buildings have been that way for years. But there was some turnover. Some properties reappeared after dropping off the 2007 list.

Along with the “Distressed Properties” report, DND released an inventory of “Certain Private Property which Appear Distressed.” That inventory includes some, but not all, of the abandoned properties counted in the report, Warsh said. Properties whose owners respond to DND’s questions about their financial situation do not appear on the inventory and will not be made public, she said.

Essentially, the “Distressed Properties” report and inventory are snapshots of ever-changing property situations and owner-DND discussions.

JP residential or mixed-use properties on the abandoned property inventory include: 10 Granada Park, 51-55 Heath St. (counted as two properties), 279 Lamartine St. and 5 Mendell Way.

JP commercial or industrial properties on the inventory include: 33-37 S. Huntington Ave., 3425 Washington St. and 3700 Washington St.

Properties on the Roxbury side of Egleston Square immediately opposite JP include: 34 Notre Dame St., 3012 Washington St. and 10 Westminster Ave.

The Granada Park and Mendell Way properties were new additions last year. The Granada Park house was subjected to city liens and was bank-owned earlier this year, according to Suffolk County property records. The Mendell Way house was subjected to an emergency boarding-up by the city’s Inspectional Services Department last fall, according to the county records.

The Westminster Avenue and 3425 Washington buildings reappeared after dropping off the inventory in 2007. Two properties from the 2007 survey, 181 Amory St. and 1589 Columbus Ave., dropped off the 2008 list due to progress with their conditions.

The S. Huntington Avenue property already has seen changes that DND was not aware of until informed by the Gazette. One of the abandoned buildings there was demolished last fall. Warsh said DND did not hear back from the property owners, so the site appears on the inventory.

Data quirks

DND also reports abandonment rates by neighborhood and compares them year-to-year. But that analysis is wrong because of the use of the incorrect BRA map, which erases some neighborhoods and draws wrong boundaries for others. Created for census-counting convenience, the map draws artificial districts labeled with real neighborhood names, causing confusion and bad data analysis throughout city agencies.

The BRA map puts large portions of JP in Roxbury and Roslindale, while putting almost all of Mission Hill and the Longwood Medical Area into JP.

On DND’s abandoned property inventory, two Mission Hill properties are listed as in JP. At the same time, two JP properties are listed as Roxbury, and one JP property is listed as Roslindale—even though some of those properties have JP’s 02130 ZIP Code.

The DND report counts 14 abandoned properties in JP, but that appears to be too high due to these map errors. Because half of them are not being made public due to the response from owners, it is impossible to verify the number.

The Gazette has described the BRA map problem in previous coverage of DND abandoned property reports. Asked why DND continues using the incorrect map, Warsh only noted that DND has been using it for years.

On top of the map confusion, DND included some typos of its own on the inventory. For example, the S. Huntington Avenue property is listed in the inventory has having the ZIP Code 02116, which is actually the Back Bay.

Neighborhood-defining problems aside, it is clear from the data that JP has a very low abandonment rate and is in far better shape than such areas as Roxbury and Dorchester.

And the overall survey appears to be a good snapshot of the abandoned properties issue and the role of the mortgage crisis.

This year’s citywide total is up by a net gain of eight properties. Of those 318 properties, more than a quarter have foreclosure deeds recorded, according to the DND report.

“The private mortgage foreclosure crisis has greatly impacted the distressed building inventory,” the report says. “All but one building that was added to the 2008 inventory was a foreclosed property.”

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.

The “Distressed Buildings” report should be available soon at the DND web site at www.CityOfBoston.gov/DND

Best of JP 2014