The office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has announced the open application period for a grant program that seeks to revitalize vacant properties across the the state.
The Distressed Properties Identifications and Revitalization grant program, or DPIR, was created to help cities and towns in Massachusetts identify distressed and vacant properties in order to then advocate for their rehabilitation.
The $1 million program is supported by funding the Attorney General’s office obtained through the results of a $25 billion national settlement with major lenders over illicit foreclosure practices, and will put a focus on some of the areas hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis. The program will involve the Registers of Deeds across the state helping the AG’s office work with communities.
Patsy Harris, Middle Berkshire Register of Deeds, said that for her region, Pittsfield is the area hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.
"Looking at our numbers for this year...we see there are 34 foreclosures so far, " said Harris. "71% or 24 of those foreclosures occured in Pittsfield."
She said that she sees her office being able to assist communities like Pittsfield, if it chooses to apply, with resolving some of the common issues cities and towns face when dealing with abandoned property.
"There are a lot of properties that will remain unsold due to title issues, so we can certainly help with that," said Harris.
Attorney General Martha Coakley could not be reached in time for broadcast, but said in a press release that “Communities with high rates of distressed properties are encouraged to utilize this grant to help return homes to acceptable standards and encourage owners to place them back on the market.”
The DPIR program comes a year after the initial rollout of the HomeCorps campaign, a series of grant programs dedicated toward helping homeowners prevent foreclosure.
One such program known as the Borrower Recovery Initiative helps homeowners by providing legal assistance towards obtaining a loan modification, bringing claims against banks for improper foreclosures, and representing homeowners facing eviction charges.
Deb Broaden of the Western Massachusetts Foreclosure Prevention Center told WAMC in March that because the Attorney General’s office is working with homeowners and communities it will help the state climb out of the foreclosure crisis, but there is still much more that needs to be done.
"The AG's funding was right on time to be able to help us make strides, that's great. The AG is backing us so if we're having particular problems so we can escalate to the AG's office," said Broaden. "But there's still, because of this was such a devastation, there's still so much more to be done."
The communities that apply for the Distressed Properties Identification and Revitalization program are encouraged to collaborate with other communities, and to work with their local register(s) of deeds on researching the post-foreclosure, distressed, and vacant properties they need to see resolved.
Communities that receive funding may use it to help enforce local ordinances to swiftly return the properties to market.
A focus will be placed particularly on Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities that have high rates of distressed properties, and are being encouraged to submit joint applications.
The application period closes on June 13th.
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