Athol looks to turn liabilities into assets

Athol Daily News
Published: 10/29/2018 10:35:11 AM
Modified: 10/29/2018 10:35:13 AM

ATHOL – The Athol Select Board recently voted to have Town Planner Eric Smith move forward on a pilot program entitled Liabilities to Assets (LTA). LTA has been created by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to help communities stabilize neighborhoods by re-developing deteriorated properties that are considered a blight. The program will support the purchase and rehabilitation of primarily single and two family properties that have been vacant for at least three years at the time of development and have a negative impact on their surrounding neighborhood.

A housing task force, which included the building inspector, fire and police departments, board of health, assessors, and planning, initially identified 21 properties: 359 Cottage St., 104 South Athol Rd., 151 School St., 19 Kendall St., 150 Everett Ave., 91 Cottage St., 194 Cottage St., 124 Cottage St., 283 Cottage St., 26 Harugari St., 566 Hapgood St., 124 Prospect St., 240 Prospect St., 230 Prospect St., 76 Prospect St., 87 Arthur Ave., 394 Harvard Ave., 126 Sanders St., 65 Smith St., 122 Wendell St., and 130 Yale Ave. The property at 65 Smith St. is no longer vacant so has been removed from the list. Three properties that are being rehabilitated have also been removed: 130 Yale Ave., 394 Harvard Ave., and 122 Wendell St. There are two clusters with at least five properties within a half mile radius.

Properties had to have at least two of the following conditions to meet Massachusetts General Law (MGL} 121A, Sec. 1 criteria:

— Multiple boarded, missing, or broken windows

— A structure that is or appears structurally unsound or has another condition that presents a potential hazard or danger to the safety of persons

— Property is physically deteriorated and has significantly peeling paint, damaged siding and or damaged or broken doors

— Property has significantly damaged walkways, driveways, walls, or other access barriers

— Property has significant presence of overgrown or dead vegetation

— Property has an accumulation of trash, refuse, or other debris

— Property has been taken for foreclosure of mortgage

Athol, along with Clinton, Gardner, Fitchburg, and Leominster have partnered with the DHCD and New Vue Communities of Fitchburg. Under MGL 121A, a new nonprofit organization called New Vue Liabilities to Assets (NVLTA) has been formed to administer the program. DHCD is working with MassHousing to provide $2,500,000 a year for the next three years to support the program. Jeff Parker is Athol’s representative.

With DHCD approval, NVLTA will acquire a property by eminent domain, clearing the title in a “friendly” transaction.

During the rehab period, contracts will be negotiated with the town through the Board of Assessors and NVLTA. Under MGL 121A. Sec. 6A, the property may be exempt from real and personal taxes.

Purchasers will have to agree to live in the newly renovated property for at least seven years. They must also provide evidence that they earn no more than 110% of the area median income according to Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) most recent determination at the time of the purchase transaction. The new owner will then pay real estate property taxes based on the assessed value of the redeveloped property.

According to Town Planner Eric Smith, this program is compatible with the town’s Master Plan. The next step is approval by the state.

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