First-Year Achievements of Holyoke Problem Property Group

HOLYOKE – In January of 2016, the Problem Property Group began in the City of Holyoke with the goal of having various City Departments sit down at one table to discuss ongoing issues with local properties and property owners.

The Building Department, Solicitor’s Office, Office of Economic Planning and Development, Mayor’s Office, Board of Health, Treasury, Fire Department, Office of Community Development, and Department of Public Works all meet once a month to provide updates, discuss obstacles, and come to solutions regarding the City’s real estate.

Before this meeting, City Departments would handle a property depending on the reason for its concern from the City. Whether it was back-taxes or code violations, it was handled by a specific department. With the Problem Property Group, there is a case-by-case approach to many of the properties in order to allow for cost effective and holistic action in dealing with properties and their owners where there is not a straightforward solution. By eliminating silos, this allows for a strategic plan to rehabilitate, market, and grow the City of Holyoke.

In 2016, the following have been major achievements for the Problem Property Group:

  • Filed 48 cases in Housing Court, 27 of which involved a defendant bank in concern of vacant and abandoned housing
  • Many of the cases have resulted in supervised rehabilitation plans and appointed receivers while others remain in various stages of litigation
  • The City has partnered with the Attorney General Abandoned Housing Initiative on vacant building receivership with a predicted 3-4 vacant properties filed in the first half of 2017.
  • $5,000 set aside in last year’s budget to cover up-front recording costs for unpaid tickets, unpaid registration fees, and recover costs of cleaning, demolishing and securing vacant properties after owner’s failure to comply
  • Unpaid ticket fines for code and ordinance violations may be liened and added to tax bills if unpaid (Section 82-6).
  • Reformed process for issuing and collecting ticket fines – tickets for code violations, and this strengthening of collecting unpaid tickets is necessary to ensure inspectors are able to use ticket fines as an effective tool for code enforcement.
  • Working with the Office of Community Development, the Building Department and Board of Health secured Community Development Block Grant funding to establish two new inspector positions focusing on code enforcement activity in blighted neighborhoods
  • Since June 2016, the CDBG-funded inspectors have performed an additional 361 inspections of residential properties and issued approximately 50 sanitary violations

The Problem Property Group has been viewed by participating departments as an effective and efficient method for resolving many of the issues the City has had.

“This is a major step in transforming our City,” says Mayor Alex B. Morse. “All of the efforts by the Problem Property Group to hold property owners accountable will have a tremendous ripple effect. When we have safe and stable properties, we will attract more residents and businesses. I thank all of the City Departments involved for contributing to finding solutions and achieving so much within the first year since its beginning. I am confident that there will be many more positive results because of this collaboration, and I look forward to seeing them take place.”

Moving forward, the committee will continue to create reform and develop strategies that will hold property owners and receivers accountable for the conditions of their buildings.