Regina Helland, a lifelong New Haven resident, lived for many years with her family in a home neighboring a vacant, condemned property on Fillmore Street. The building had fallen into disrepair and occasionally housed drug dealers and users.
Tired of the crime and hoping to build a new home on the lot, Helland was able to buy the condemned property from the city of New Haven in March 2002 through a Livable City Initiative surplus property sale.
“[The house] was so blighted it almost fell and hit the house on the other side of the property,” Helland said.
This April, the Property Division of the Livable City Initiative — one of the city’s departments responsible for improving New Haven’s neighborhoods by removing blighted buildings and encouraging permanent home ownership — plans to sell another 16 surplus properties located throughout New Haven. The sales will generate funds for the city and will help to revitalize New Haven’s neighborhoods, said Andrew Rizzo, executive director of LCI.
This will be the fifth surplus property sale in two years.
The properties for sale came into the city’s possession through foreclosure and will be sold through a bidding process.
“We’re not in the real estate business,” Rizzo said. “We look at the best way to get that property back into the neighborhood.”
For this reason, LCI only approves sales on the condition that the buyer agree to build a new home or rehabilitate the existing structure within a year of purchase. In addition, Rizzo said LCI looks for occupant owners rather than buyers interested for investment or renting purposes.
“People take better care of these properties when they live there,” he said.
The abandoned and condemned buildings and lots that exist all over New Haven attract crime and refuse into neighborhoods, Rizzo said. While the properties stand vacant, the city loses valuable tax revenue and is forced to pay for the maintenance of the lots.
Rizzo said the sales will not only attract residents and improve neighborhoods, but will also help the city recover some of its tax losses.
“Our goal is to recoup as much tax money as we can,” LCI Deputy Director Frank D’Amore said.
D’Amore said the past four surplus housing sales have raised over $2.5 million. The properties sell for prices anywhere from 20 percent to full market value, Rizzo said. But Rizzo and D’Amore emphasized that the city does not necessarily sell the properties to the highest bidder.
“We take the offer that best fits into the plan for the neighborhood,” Rizzo said.
Helland built a new home on the property she bought from the city during the third surplus sale. She said the bidding process was not easy, even though she and her family were already long-term residents of the neighborhood.
“I think we had a pretty hard time trying to get them to let us have this house,” she said.
Despite the efforts of LCI, Helland said there are still many condemned properties in the neighborhood. She said she believes the city should sell the properties at lower prices to encourage ownership and should check up on the properties they sold to insure that owners are fulfilling their promises.
“There’s a lot more they can do,” she said.