To put it in stark terms, 459 Granite St. is a slum.
Maybe I should say it was a slum, because neighbors tell me that — other than squatters — no one has lived in the four-family building on the city’s West Side for about four years.
The fire department has marked it with a red X, meaning no firefighter is going to put his life in danger should it catch fire. Manchester SWAT recently used the 118-year-old building to practice breaking down doors.
The city file on the property is full of complaints about faulty wiring, broken heaters, water-damaged ceilings and unpaid landlord fines. And from the front yard, I can tell that the property is popular among one element — neighborhood dogs (and rather big ones at that).
“The foundation’s all gone; it’s sinking into the ground. The only thing they’re going to be able to do with it is demolish and rebuild,” said Kelly Angelides while enjoying a cigarette on the back porch of the adjacent tenement.
Who owns such a dump?
You do, city of Manchester. Or at least you did. Last April, the city took title to 459 Granite St. for back taxes, along with 15 other properties in the city. It’s the first time in at least a dozen years that the city seized property from deadbeats, and officials auctioned most of them off in January, according to the city’s tax collector, Brenda Mascewic Adams.
The back tax bill was $93,000, and it sold for $103,000. City Hall might have cashed in, but I’m not sure about the Granite Square neighborhood.
All one has to do is walk through the neighborhood and realize that it needs a lot of things, but another apartment building isn’t one of them.
Yards? There are few yards here (459 is a rare exception). Most yards are coffin size, big enough for a flower garden. If yards ever existed, they were requisitioned for parking spots long ago. No backstreet alleys either. Streets are narrow, narrower in the evening when people park their cars for the night.
Some tenements are four stories high, including the building across the street from 459, where Michael Pittman was murdered in 2015 by his drug dealer.
It’s a neighborhood where a freshly painted multifamily can stand next to a dump with broken windows.
“I would agree with (a park),” said Juan Soler, who lives in Pittman’s old apartment and spoke as his 4-year-old daughter wiggled in his arms. Soler said 459 would make for a nice playground. In a couple of years, he said, he could send his daughter across the street with friends.
“There’s nothing for kids here,” said Angelides, whose granddaughter lives with her. “This is our yard, the driveway.”
The new owner of 459 is NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, a neighborhood redevelopment organization.
Long-serving Executive Director Robert Tourigny said it was a natural for his agency to bid on the property. Granite Square was one of the first neighborhoods that NeighborWorks targeted for redevelopment after the city decided to do something about slums after the 2006 shooting death of police officer Michael Briggs.
NeighborWorks has invested $5 million in the Granite Square, mostly by buying buildings, rehabbing them with federal dollars and selling them to owner-occupied tenants. (They bought and demolished two buildings; one made way for more parking for the Cashin Senior Center; the other ended up as a yard for a neighboring property.)
NeighborWorks plans to buy another four Granite Square buildings and combine them into a single entity with 459. In total, 11 apartments would be available for rent, which NeighborWorks would own and manage.
“Quite frankly, the timing is perfect for 459,” Tourigny said.
NeighborWorks will seek federal funding to fix the building. “It’s just like every other building we buy in the neighborhood. (It needs) a complete and total gut,” he said.
Or a complete and total wrecking ball. I ask, “What about a park?”
Tourigny acknowledged that his organization met with Granite Square residents several years ago and discussed priorities: more open space, more off-street parking, less density and more home ownership.
But he dismissed my suggestion of a park. Who’s going to own it and take care of it? And he said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wouldn’t take kindly to using its money to tear down homes.
“You’re making a federal case; a HUD policy decision you have to wrestle with,” he said.
It appears that even though the city held title to the property for about eight months, no one asked Granite Square residents what they wanted.
Adams, the tax collector, said her job was to get as much for the tax-deeded properties that she could, and it would be expensive to demolish the house, anyway.
“We had so many properties on hand, we needed an efficient way to get them back on the tax rolls as much as possible,” she said.
The alderman for the neighborhood, Bill Barry, gave me a lot more information about a tax deeded property on the other side of town — Genest Bakery — than 459.
“It’s new to me,” he said about 459. “I think, in the city’s best interest, we need to get the best price, the best bang for our buck.”
Tourigny expects that work on the property could start in the summer.