Summer Street Property a Model for Revitalizing Blighted Homes

By Seth Daniel

There were several points throughout the past 15 months that Jim Soper, director of Inspectional Services (ISD), wanted to simply bulldoze the burnt-out home at 97 Summer St. and call it a day.

The pull to quell complaints from the neighborhood and from elected officials was strong, and Soper didn’t like seeing the home sit idle in an up-and-coming neighborhood, but the desire to dot all the ‘i’s’ and cross all the ’t’s’ won out, and now the City is ready to begin its first receivership home restoration.

Word came officially this week when Middlesex Superior Court granted receivership status to Community Revitalization, which will investigate in the coming months how to best rebuild the property – which is on a large 7,000-plus sq. ft. lot.

“The family there had lived in that house a long time and it didn’t look very good,” said Soper. “The people in the neighborhood, you understand they don’t want to live next to it and that’s a thriving community coming off Ferry Street. You want to jump and get it done. It’s hard because if you jump, you could be in trouble. You have to wait a year or so sometimes, but it works out eventually and it works out the right way. It’s a game of patience.”

Now, Soper and Mayor Carlo DeMaria believe they have found a formula – albeit one steeped in patient plodding through the legal system – for other derelict residential homes and commercial buildings in the city that could be redeveloped and returned to usefulness.

“I am glad to finally see some resolution with 97 Summer Street,” said DeMaria, “For years the neighbors have been dealing with this neglected property. Our ISD team has been diligent in its dealing with this case. Let this be a warning to other violators, the City of Everett will not allow properties to stay in violation of health and safety codes. Our Police, Fire, and ISD departments will remain aggressive in their campaign against blight and unsafe neighborhood conditions. Property owners will be held accountable.”

Soper and the mayor said there were a couple more properties on the way, including one that will come up for a court date at the end of this month.

“There are a couple more on the way, including commercial buildings too,” said a spokesperson for the mayor.

The house on Summer Street has a fiery history, quite literally.

On Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2015, the former owner Mark Lavoine barricaded himself in the home and proceeded to endure a five-hour standoff with police. Lavoine had several legal weapons and did fire one of the weapons at the time. That standoff ended in the home being set ablaze and Lavoine being taken into custody.

While apparently serving a short stint in jail, the Lavoine house languished in its burnt out state – sitting right in the middle of a fully-occupied block of anxious neighbors.

The property had acquired numerous violations of the Mass State Sanitary Code.

An engineer hired by the City reported that the home was unstable and needed to be taken down. However, just as the City was ready to proceed with demolition last summer, Lavoine turned back up. He appeared at ISD with his own engineer, who produced a report to Soper that indicated the home could be saved. Lavoine said he intended to follow that engineering plan and pull a building permit – which he did.

“We worked with him and he took a building permit in July 2016 for interior demolition,” said Soper. “A building permit is only good for a certain amount of time, though. We waited to see if he would take action within that time. There are a lot of things that could be done on that property. It’s a 7,700 sq. ft. lot and a two-family can be built there by right. There are a lot of things that can be done, but unfortunately we can’t just go forward. The only thing we can actually do is demolish the home. With evidence in the file that it could be saved, we wanted to be careful. We didn’t want to be in a situation down the road.”

When Lavoine took no action on the permit, inspectors began to document violations on the property once again.

After several months of no response to ISD enforcement action requests, the property was turned over to the law firm of D’Ambrosio & Brown LLP, whose services have been secured by the City in order to begin the process of receivership. D’Ambrosio & Brown were able to expedite the lengthy legal process, and last week, a judge issued receivership of the property to the Community Revitalization Group (CRG).

That group is headed up by the former building inspector in Malden, who now works for the town of Middleton. When not working there, he operates CRG to become the receiver of derelict properties in order to bring them back to habitability.

Soper said CRG can do several things and they are looking at their option right now – having secured the property with a fence and made it safe. He said they could knock it down, they could build a new structure, or they could rehabilitate the old structure.

“I have faith in this receiver,” said Soper. “He has experience with the building codes as he is a building inspector, so I have someone else who knows the right way to do things here.”

Once repairs are complete, Community Revitalization will collect payment for the cost of the repairs with additional fees allowed for management of the project. The City will be paid all fines, back-taxes, or any other monies owed in regards to the property.  Once the City clears the property of the violations, the owners of the property, and the banks or management companies, will then be given first opportunity to make repayment to Community Revitalization.

Otherwise they can take advantage of a rapid foreclosure process through the Court.

Soper said he would like to see more contractors in Everett get involved in the receivership process, though he did say it’s not for everyone.

“We do need to develop some contractors from the community to do this kind of work here,” he said. “A lot of times, receivers have to have deep pockets because you are hung out there for awhile. It does end up working good though if you can wait. If you’re a good receiver and you document everything you spend, you’ll get your 20 percent back eventually.”

Beyond that, Soper said he and Mayor DeMaria are excited to see the home become occupied soon and neighbors able to welcome a new face to the street.

“My hope is we’ll have a new family coming into our community very soon to live in 97 Summer St.,” he said.

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