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October 11. 2012 11:35PM

Berlin fixes or demolishes blighted homes


This tax-deeded property on Burgess Street in Berlin is slated for demolition. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX/Union Leader Correspondent)


This rehabilitated triple-decker on Strafford Street in Berlin is an example of how a renovated property can look. (By SARA YOUNG-KNOX/Union Leader Correspondent)

BERLIN — The city of Berlin has taken a record number of properties by tax deed this year, and on Monday the city's housing coordinator, Linda White, gave the city council an update on the plans for the properties.

The city has tax deeded 36 parcels, most with residences on them, but several with commercial buildings, and even though six properties have been bought back by the former owners, the action puts a record number of back-taxes properties in the city's possession.

It also gives the city a boost in its ongoing project to cull blighted buildings from its housing stock, lessen the density of neighborhoods, and rehabilitate stressed, but still salvageable, properties. White told the council that a couple properties are scheduled to be resold, with 13 other buildings possibly facing demolition.

Sitting in her basement office in city hall Thursday, White said the demolition of blighted buildings, many of which have had less than responsible owners, and less than responsible tenants, has changed the outlook of the remaining neighbors.

“When the demolitions are happening, people are ecstatic,” White said. One onlooker told her, she said, “This is so good, you're reclaiming Berlin.” After a lot is cleared, adjacent property owners get the first chance to buy it, though they have to be current on their own property taxes to make a bid.

In 2008, the city established the Berlin Neighborhood Revitalization Project, made possible by a $350,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), to provide assistance to those unable to make repairs on their homes. Tri-County CAP serves as the general contractor for the project.

The housing project's big breakthrough came in fiscal year 2009, when the city was awarded a $4.3 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant.

In 2011, a neighborhood on the east side of the city saw two buildings demolished, and seven others completely renovated. The city works with TKB Properties, owned by Kevin Lacasse and Tim Coulombe, to rehab properties. TKB has acquired over 20 properties, rehabilitating through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It's a very successful partnership, White said.

For the tax-deeded buildings that are beyond help, the process is more complicated, especially if there are tenants in the building. The tenants are given notice, and White said that even before the official notification city officials let the tenants know that they should not be paying rent to the person who was their landlord, but instead set that money aside so that they have funds to find another place to live.

When the building is vacated, she said, the first thing they do is take out the garbage and board it up.

The program has already helped with the rental market, where the surplus of units drove prices down, and the less-than-responsible landlords did not do proper maintenance on their properties. Now, White said, rents have stabilized, and in some cases have inched up.

As far as the tax-deeded properties that the city will sell, she said, if the property has code and safety issues, those must be addressed by the new owners. White, who has been on the job over a year but was mentored, she said, by Caron, “He had to kind of invent the wheel for this,” also works closely with City Manager Pat MacQueen, code enforcer Joe Martin, health officer Angela Martin, and Patty Chase, finance director, among others.

syoungknox@newstote.com


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