PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - Providence Mayor Angel Taveras said the vacant home crisis plaguing his city is finally "stabilizing" following the epic housing collapse of 2008.
According to records out of city hall, there are 501 vacant or abandoned homes in Providence. The city only recently began tracking the number of homes, so while its hard to get a clear picture of the trend, Taveras - who was a housing court judge prior to getting elected in 2010 - said he sees the problem improving.
"We have a lot more work to do and my job is to put in a system to deal with it," Taveras said.
Target 12 toured the city with the first-term mayor in areas particularly hard hit by the crisis.
"It's a blight on the community" Taveras said pointing to an abandoned home in the Olneyville neighborhood. "Houses like this can drag the neighborhood down and what were going be doing with this one is we 're looking at whether or not this is a possible candidate for the receivership program."
Hoping to turn dilapidated properties into homes, the Taveras administration has been working to get a housing receivership program off the ground.
Here's how it would work: when an abandoned property in violation of minimum housing code is identified, the city – working with the courts – orders the owner to make the property safe. If that fails, the court will then hold a hearing to see if there are any outside parties interested in taking over the property and fixing it up. If there are no takers, the court appoints a receiver that can access a pool of money to fix up the home. The original owner then has the opportunity to compensate the receiver. If they can't, the city puts the property up for sale.
A spokesman for Taveras said they are working with the "Nuisance Task Force" to get the program up and running.
"We are currently identifying funding sources for the receivership program with an aim to get it up and running by the end of the year," said spokesman David Ortiz.
The city has been cracking down on no-show property owners who let buildings fall into disrepair. An increasing number of those facing the wrath of city officials are banks that have foreclosed on a home.
In January, housing court judge Jorge Elorza issued a $150,000 fine against the Bank NY Mellon for failing to show up and answer questions about a foreclosed home falling into disrepair. It's believed to be the largest fine in Providence House Court history.
"I don't know all the details but I will say this and that is that we must respect court orders," Taveras said. "Banks cannot decide that they're going to simply disregard their responsibility and not pay attention to court orders."
For now, when a property owner repeatedly fails to take care of a home in disrepair, and its deemed a threat to public safety, the city has to tear it down. Since 2009 Providence has demolished 23 properties, according to records.
Taveras said it's not an easy decision to make.
"We have to do it sometimes," Taveras said. "It does cost money but in the grand scheme of things if you've saved one life ... there's no price you can put on that."
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