Blight Rx: Sell To Luis & Virginia? Or St. Luke’s?
by Paul Bass | Jul 9, 2012 12:07 pm
As potential buyers tramped through the rubble of an abandoned Dixwell house Monday, a Mexican-born couple hoped to move from an apartment across the street into their own renovated home. Leaders of a nearby church envisioned creating a home for returning war vets.
And the city had a good problem on its hands: figuring out how best to turn blight into neighborhood renewal.
The tramping and dreaming took place at 55 Dickerman St., a trashed three-story home whose owner walked away years ago.
The city recently seized that house and another on Fair Haven’s Clay Street as part of a new effort to tackle blight: aggressively taking control of abandoned hovels. (Read about that here.) The city is targeting 150 long-abandoned vacant homes. In cases like 55 Dickerman, it tries to contact the owner. If unsuccessful, it starts levying fines for blight. If those fines go unpaid, it moves to foreclose—then quickly puts the house up for sale.
“We do not want to be landlords,” said Erik Johnson, head of city government’s Livable City Initiative (LCI).
Monday morning LCI held open houses for prospective buyers at the two properties, the first two seized under this effort.
By 10:30, after only an hour and a half, 24 interested parties had already braved crumbling ceilings, wall-to-wall ripped furniture and moldy books and trash to scope out 55 Dickerman. The house stands halfway down a one-block street that parallels Whalley Avenue one block to the south and Goffe Street one block north.
Luis Islas and Virginia Cruz (pictured at the top of the story) were among the visitors. They came from directly across the street, where they rent an apartment. They’re itching to buy the house, do a gut-rehab, and move in.
The couple came here from Mexico 20 years ago. Islas drives a truck and handles packages for UPS. Cruz runs a home day care. They have four children.
“If we can buy it today, we’ll start working today,” Islas declared.
The fair market value of the home and the 0.14-acre land is $44,200, according to land records. Built in 1915, it has a living area of 1,971 square feet.
No one’s buying the house until at least next month. Prospective buyers have until Aug. 9 to put in offers. Then an LCI committee will decide to whom to sell the building.
LCI officials were among those on hand at 55 Dickerman Monday. LCI Director Johnson (pictured) said the committee will give owner-occupants priority over outside investors. But it will also look at prospective buyers’ financing and overall financial capacity. Taking title to a house like 55 Dickerman is just the beginning of a long, costly, complicated journey. (This film may serve as a cautionary tale.)
That means weighing the good intentions of would-be owner-occupants like the Islas/Cruz family against the good intentions of a neighborhood institution like St. Luke’s Church.
The church, around the corner on Whalley, formed a development corporation in order to invest in and stabilize the neighborhood. It has already built an 18-apartment home for seniors a block away on Goffe. It is currently looking at buying five properties right on Dickerman to renovate and rent out.
Church elder Sheldon Rhinehart (pictured) along with other St. Luke’s leaders joined the throng Monday morning to “explore the possibility” of whether 55 Dickerman should be house number six in their plan.
Rhinehart said the church would like to fix the house and rent it to two families of returning Afghan or Iraq war vets at a time. “We don’t want to put 10 veterans in one little place,” he explained. Rather, the church would like to help vets’ families “assimilate” into the existing neighborhood.
Whoever wins the house will have lots of clearing out to do, from the trash and destroyed furniture covering the main floors ...
. up the neglected staircases ...
... to the equally trashed second and third floors.
The winner will get a bonus CD—assuming the squatters and rodents and vermin that have had their way with the house the past few years no longer can get in. A copy of Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz’s Deja Vu (Uptown Babu) appeared in playable condition Monday morning inside its jewel box on the second floor.
Follow this link for more information.